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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why political telemarketing is so common

About 10 years ago, the CEO of Cisco, John Chambers, made a big splash by proclaiming that “voice is free”. In the context of telecommunications, he was referring to the emerging ability to route telephone calls over the Internet, or Internet-like networks, at virtually no marginal cost. In comparison, the telephone networks of the 1970-2000 era were expensive to operate.

Many of us in the telecom business thought it was irresponsible of Chambers to exaggerate the impact of technology on the voice business, which did then and still now generates a lot of revenue worldwide. But there’s no denying the impact of what we call “voice over Internet Protocol” or “voice over IP” or just “VoIP” technology.

In the past week I’ve taken about 50 politically-motivated telephone calls at home. Some were robo-calls. Others had a human being on the other end, urging me to vote for some candidate or party. Eventually I quit answering the phone unless the Caller ID info was from someone I knew; or I would answer the phone but not say hello. The outbound calling systems of most telemarketing centers will disconnect a call if they don’t detect a “hello” or some other voice response within five seconds.

VoIP has reduced the cost of a telephone call so much that politicians can afford to blast their messages to every landline telephone number they can find. In other words, there’s no longer a penalty for inefficient use of landline telephones as a resource.

How far we have come from the 1960s! In those days, when a phone call from someone far away came in, the cry of “It’s long distance” would make you run – literally – to the telephone. On an inflation-adjusted basis, those long distance calls were priced at about a dollar a minute. These days, I pay a provider called Teleblend only $15 a month for unlimited inbound and outbound calling in the U.S. Even so, the Teleblend service includes many fancy features like configurable call blocking on a per-number basis and notifications to my cellphone via SMS when someone leaves me a voicemail at home.

I voted last week; Wake County allows no-excuse early voting, which is very popular and convenient. But I am relieved to know that the telephone won’t ring as often, starting tomorrow.