COLUMN:Poor Debra, no one wants low rates

Tim Paluch

We’ve all gotten those calls at the most inopportune of times. The familiar voice on the other line asking us questions we don’t have time to answer. Buy something, try something, do something. They never leave you alone, calling nearly every night at the same time. You want to hang up, but you don’t. You can’t. After all, they are your parents.

Then, just when you’ve finally convinced Mom and Dad you’re doing fine – yes, you’re eating well. And yes, you’re going to class. And yes, you’re getting that rash looked at – another ring.

This time it’s Debra. And she’s calling from MCI.

“Hello sir. I’m calling to fill you in on MCI’s new exciting long distance plan.”

“I’m sorry; I’m not interested.”

“That’s understandable. But let me tell you what you’ll be missing if you fail to act on this exclusive offer.”

“No, really. I’m pretty busy. I’m hanging up.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Go ahead. I’ll call back.”

“I won’t answer.”

“Then we’ll come to you. We know where you live. We know where you work. We know EVERYTHING. In fact, we’re watching you right now. So close your bathrobe; you’re embarrassing yourself.”

Telemarketers. The people we love to loathe. Ask someone to name the professions they despise the most, and you’ll surely hear “telemarketer,” along with the other obvious choices – lawyers, journalists, that Jared guy from the Subway commercials.

Telemarketing has been around as long as telephones have. On March 12, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, made the first successful test of the new device. Bell contacted his assistant Thomas Watson and, after mispronouncing his name, asked Watson if he was satisfied with his current long distance company. Telemarketing was born.

But it appears now that refuge from these telemarketers may be on the horizon.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission wants to create a nation-wide “do not call” registry, which would make it illegal for telemarketers to contact anyone on the list.

Several states have similar registries of their own. Over 700,000 people signed up for Connecticut’s “do not call” registry within its first year. Missouri launched a “do not call” registry of its own in July, and within six months 570,000 people signed up. By March, nearly half of the state’s population was on the list. The other half of the state would have gotten around to signing up as well, but they’ve been stuck on the phone with Debra from MCI since early August.

The plan for a national registry is not without opposition, however. Some, including the Direct Marketing Association Inc. (DMA) in New York, claim the plan would overstep the government’s boundaries in limiting communication, in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution. And in my opinion, the DMA is correct.

The company, and others who oppose such a registry, refer to the Constitution’s little-known 64th Amendment, which states that citizens do not have the right to eat dinner quietly in the privacy of their own home. Thus, the “do not call” registry is unconstitutional.

But we didn’t need a “do not call” registry anyway. I’ve got my own device preventing telemarketers from talking with me. It’s called Caller ID. If I don’t know you, I’m not answering. And most of the time, even if I do know you, I’m not answering.

And if you don’t have Caller ID, it’s just as easy to avoid telemarketers.

Have we gotten so busy as a society that we don’t have the time to hang up on someone we don’t want to talk to? Telemarketers never call back. In fact, it’s against the law to do so.

Telemarketers are just doing their jobs. Some people work at a newspaper, others at McDonalds. Just so happens Debra works for MCI. She’s putting food on the table just like you and me.

Next time you get that call, don’t get angry and hang up. At least mess with the voice on the other line first. Yell at them. Not anything in particular and not at them. Just yell. Loud and long. More times than not, they’ll hang up. Or you can say something off the wall, like, “Sure, I’m interested in long distance. Just let me turn Grandpa real quick and I’ll listen more.”

Or, if you really want to freak a telemarketer out, just simply and genuinely say, “Yes, I’m interested. Tell me more.” That’s something they’ve surely never heard before.

Tim Paluch is a junior in journalism and mass communication from Orland Park, Ill. He is opinion editor of the Daily.