New proposed FCC regulations to severely restrict automated "robocalls" appear politically neutral but will actually damage GOP chances of holding onto the Senate and winning the presidency in 2016, GOP insiders tell Newsmax.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler recently announced the Commission will consider at its June 18 meeting adoption of rules encouraging telephone companies to offer services to consumers that would block virtually all incoming automated phone calls.
"The FCC wants to make it clear," Wheeler stated on an FCC blog post Wednesday. "Telephone companies can – and in fact should – offer consumers robocall-blocking tools."
While the provision may be popular with consumers tired of having their evenings interrupted by annoying phone calls, some GOP insiders are crying foul.
Unlike some previous efforts to limit the aggravation of marketing calls, the current regulations under consideration would not grant a waiver for political speech, such as automated polling.
According to a recent article in Politico, representatives of the survey industry see the proposed rules as "an existential threat."
Howard Fienberg, director of governmental affairs for the Marketing Research Association, called the call-blocking service "potentially devastating to the survey, opinion, and marketing research profession." Candidates and media organizations use automated phone-dialing systems -- which already are not allowed to dial cell-phone numbers -- to conduct rapid, cost-efficient surveys of public opinion.
Fienberg charges: "The FCC and the chairman are playing fast and loose with their terms, using unwanted calls, telemarketing calls, and robocalls interchangeably, and conflating illegal telemarketing scams with legitimate calls."
Surveys that rely on human dialers can cost up to twice as much, pollsters say. Polls can also be conducted via online survey, but they run the risk of underestimating the votes of those less likely to use the internet, including older voters and those who are poor.
But it is a different aspect of the robocall ban that has Republicans worried: Their use as a tool to get out the vote.
As swing-state voters know all too well, candidates in the waning days of a campaign often to robocalls to perform the vital task of getting out the vote. A heavy volume of automated calls are placed to help remind voters considered likely to favor a particular candidate to be sure to go to the polls on Election Day and vote.
Matt Towery, the conservative author, columnist, and head of the InsiderAdvantage polling firm, tells Newsmax that his company has already shifted away from robocalls and relies instead on "very accurate" online polling.
Towery charges that Wheeler has already bowed to political pressure from the White House once, in dropping his objections to net neutrality. The FCC approved that controversial proposal, which essentially classifies internet service providers as public utilities, on a straight party-line vote in February.
In a recent column posted on Newsmax Insiders, Towery warns that the turnout function of the robocalls is "the real and deadly aim of Wheeler and his gang."
Towery says the regulations will disadvantage Republicans disproportionately because Democratic strategists "own the world of social media," which they rely on heavily to get out the vote for their candidates.
GOP voters, by contrast, tend to be older.
"Who still has landlines or will even talk on a phone?" Towery asks. "Older Americans. And who is least likely to have their faces shoved into a handheld device or to be surfing the net 24/7? You guessed it.
Towery’s conclusion: "Without those 'pesky' automated phone calls to turn out their base, the GOP will be flatted come November 2016."
While candidates would always be free to set up banks of live phone callers to conduct their get-out-the-vote campaigns, those could prove prohibitively expensive.
If the FCC approves the rules later this month, they would take effect immediately. It is not yet clear, however, how long it would take telephone companies to offer the actual call-blocking services.
Pollsters are asking for a waiver that would exempt them from the call-blocking systems. But so far the FCC is stating that waivers allowing robocalls would be granted only for "urgent circumstances," such as notification of prescription refills, or alerting consumers that they may be victims of banking fraud.
Politico.com points out the first test of the robocall ban’s impact could come earlier than expected. Fox News and CNN officials have both stated they will rely on polling averages to determine which GOP candidates are viable enough to compete in the upcoming debates in August and September.
According to Towery, banning robocalls would hand Republicans a major tactical disadvantage.
"What will appear to be a 'pro-consumer' set of rules," he writes, "will instead make it virtually impossible for Republican candidates to turn out their base in the most important election of our lifetime."
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