It's been four months to the day since I last wrote on the subject of the cell phone industry's plan to publish your unlisted cell phone number for all the world to see -- and charge you for the privilege. Fortunately, the U.S. Senate has not been sitting on its hands all this while. Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill on the proposed "E411" cell phone directory, sending it on to the full Senate for a floor vote.
To recap what got all this legislative wrangling started, wireless providers such as ATT Wireless
Providers would sell access to the directory to whomever might be interested in getting your number (telemarketers, anyone?). Total estimated revenues: as much as $3 billion per year. And then, of course, there's the revenue to be gained from you, dear Fool. That's right. As a general rule, when someone calls you on your cell phone, it isn't just the caller who pays the piper -- you get to pay for the call as well, whether in "minutes" or in per-minute over-the-limit charges. What's worse, the providers initially wanted inclusion in this directory to be "opt out," so a customer would have to request not to be included -- else, silence would equal consent.
That's where the Commerce Committee put its collective foot down. The version of Senate bill S. 1963, the "Wireless 411 Privacy Act," that passed yesterday requires any provider who wants to put your number in the directory to get your permission first. In other words: No more opt out; now they have to convince you to opt in.
Considering that the directory has not even been created yet, the Commerce Committee's opt-in restriction may well kill the idea before it ever gets off the ground. A recent poll conducted by the AARP found that nine out of 10 respondents opposed the idea of a wireless directory, and 95% would refuse to opt in if asked. If the results of that poll can be extrapolated to the general cell-phone-using population, the industry as a whole can expect to reap no more than $150 million per year from the project. That may make creating it no longer worth the effort, to which this Fool says: Good riddance.
For more Foolish news & commentary on wireless providers, telemarketers and all things telecom, read:
- No, Seriously: Do Not Call!
- Telecoms Want Money for Nothing
- Talk America Rings Up the FCC
- Phone Bills Don't (Quite) Lie
Fool contributor Rich Smith has no interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article.