Cellular phones have become an ubiquitous part of society, making anyone who owns one accessible 24/7, whether they want it or not. That fact hasn’t escaped the notice of telephone solicitors, who have expanded their target market to include both landlines and cellular phones.
Unlike landline telephone solicitations, unwanted cellular solicitations can actually cost consumers money. Depending on their individual cellular service plan, consumers are charged by the minute or by the text, giving Wisconsin consumers an added impetus to register their cellular numbers on the state’s No Call list, which has been in place since 2001.
Wired Wisconsin lobbied the Wisconsin Legislature last session on SB 185 and/or AB 250, which was passed into law as 2011 Wisconsin Act 197. This act expanded Wisconsin’s No Call program to include text messaging.
Despite this law, Wisconsin’s current administrative code lags behind, and the Department of Trade, Agriculture and Consumer Protection is currently working on making the code more consistent with state law.
Such efforts are coming at a crucial point, as both the federal and state no call lists are not as successful as they used to be in curbing unwanted calls and texts. According to national data, while the number of consumers registering on these lists continue to increase, the number of telemarketers checking the list on a quarterly basis, as they are required to do, is decreasing. Any changes we can make to tighten up the gaps that allow unwanted solicitations through to our cell phones are worth pursuing.
For now, the proposed changes to the state’s administrative code include inserting definitions for “caller identification information” and “caller identification service.” The changes also create a new prohibition against telephone solicitors transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller identification information, also known as “spoofing.” Additionally, for the purposes of the no call list, the administrative code will also clarify that the definition of “telephone solicitation” will include text messages, and for the first time, creates a definition of a “text message.”
With the continuing growth of cellular phone usage, any practical means we can use to minimize text message spam will benefit consumers. According to CTIA, the Wireless Association, as of December 2011, American consumers send and receive more than 193 billion text messages a month. Cell phone users, particularly among the younger demographic groups, rely much more heavily on text messaging than on phone calls to communicate.
Changes such as these are necessary and needed, and do a great deal to minimize the number of unwanted text messages sent and received. Cellular consumers have the right to only receive offers for goods, services and products they have requested, and not be the recipients of unwanted text spam.
This change is also good news for businesses that follow the rules and use text messages as a legitimate and welcomed means to communicate with their customers. As with all means of communication – junk mail, email spam, unsolicited telephone calls – the more that consumers receive, the less likely they are to pay attention to legitimate messages sent through these means.
The DATCP is holding a public hearing on this issue on September 27 to bring the state’s administrative code in compliance with Act 197. Consumers can add their landlines and cellular phone lines to the state’s No Call list by visiting nocall.wisconsin.gov.
Thad Nation is the executive director of Wired Wisconsin.