FCC Robocall Ruling Could Hurt Pollsters

While last week's ruling by the Federal Communications Commission to rein in the use of robocalls was considered a big win for consumers, pollster groups have suggested that the decision could damage a necessary part of the democratic process.

A recent robocall ruling wasn’t exactly a slam-dunk win for all.

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled Americans had the right to use technology that could block automated robocalls.

But the decision doesn’t just hurt telemarketers; pollers also use “robopolls,” or automated calls with recorded research questions—and no exemption was granted for such practices, as there was for the healthcare and banking industries.

Groups representing pollsters and researchers worry the decision will greatly affect the industry’s work.

Not Enough Clarity

While pollsters were actually exempt from the ‘Do Not Call’ registry list in 2003, the FCC recently voted not to repeat that exemption.

This is of major concern for the Marketing Research Association (MRA) and the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO). Both groups argue that there needs to be a better definition of an autodialer.

“We had asked that the FCC limit use of the term ‘robocall,’ sensibly limit the definition of an autodialer, and establish a bright line rule regarding reasonable opt-out and a clear standard for notice of wireless number reassignment,” the two groups said in a joint statement [PDF]. “CASRO and MRA are disappointed that these requests were sidestepped.”

The groups added that the FCC changes were “harming legitimate research businesses” rather than “expanding the agency’s enforcement to deter and punish illegal and abusive telemarketers.”

The Potential Effects

One positive about the decision is that it would not ban auto-dialing outright, which pollsters initially worried would be an effect of the decision. Nonetheless, the decision’s new restrictions could lead pollsters to stop using autodialers entirely, and instead rely on people to dial by hand—something that could raise costs.

Pollsters could soon start to rely on internet-based polling, but the methodology is newer and relatively untested.

Bigger than Politics

The potential impact will go farther than political polls and can hurt society as a whole, researchers say.

“If we lose the advantage of public opinion polling on issues of the day, it really has a profound effect on democracy,” pollster Peter Hart told the Los Angeles Times.

Pollsters say they’re already facing a decrease in people who answer surveys, and the robocall ruling will add to that.

“We will still have to wait and see if predictive dialing gets looped into this new FCC rule, but I am very disappointed in the lack of foresight of that regulatory agency,” Cygnal Managing Partner Brent Buchanan told Campaigns and Elections. “Hopefully, we can do a better job of letting people know the importance polls play in our lives, so fewer people opt-out of robocalls.”

MRA and CASRO say they are “considering all options—regulatory, legislative and judicial—to support a positive business environment for legitimate research.”


Patrick deHahn

By Patrick deHahn

Patrick deHahn is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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