Set a minimum price for phone calls?

In the 1970s if someone had asked “Would your life be better or worse if phone calls were free?” I would have said, unequivocally, “better.” Now 95 percent of the calls that I receive are spam, usually with a robot on the other end.

If I could replace Donald Trump as supreme dictator, my first act would be to set a minimum price for (legacy network) phone calls of, e.g., 50 cents. There could be exceptions for friends-and-family circles. And maybe each phone line could get a monthly allowance as well. So the average resident of the U.S. would seldom incur this fee, but it would become uneconomic to use humans in India or robots in the U.S. to torture Americans with their own phones.

Phone companies are already heavily regulated, so I don’t see why this decree would be illegal. If the phone companies are getting crazy fat from these fees then presumably their monthly rates will come down a bit due to competition and/or regulation.

It doesn’t seem necessary to regulate voice communication via modern services such as Facebook, FaceTime, Skype, etc. Those services already require some authentication, right? And it is easy to say “just block anyone who isn’t on my contacts list”.

Readers: thoughts?

Related: Back in the 1980s, Ed Fredkin asked MIT students if they would resist a dictator who tried to install a bell right next to their heads in their bedrooms that could be run at any time of night. If we would resist the government imposing this on us, why would we do it voluntarily? (Of course, now the bell is in our pocket!)

Also related: Why wasn’t the phone system completely reorganized around 1985 such that people tell the carrier (a) when they’re available, (b) with whom they wish to communicate in the near-term? The carrier could then match up people who wanted to talk at a time when both were free to talk.

Finally: The country has its collective panties in a twist regarding net neutrality, with reasonable arguments on both sides about the extent to which the FCC should regulate Internet traffic. Meanwhile, everyone agrees that the FCC actually is supposed to regulate the legacy phone network and nobody complains that, under the FCC’s watch, the phone network has turned into an instrument of torture.

18 thoughts on “Set a minimum price for phone calls?

  1. How about the same minimum price for E-mail, with the twist that the recipient receives the proceeds, with option to automatically return the money to those he wants more E-mails from.

  2. And if you’re someone like Warren Buffett, you could set the price of reaching you to $10K or whatever amount you consider appropriate.

  3. An alternative approach might be to allow anybody with a phone to enter some special character sequence after hanging up from a *received* phone call that could charge the caller some small amount of money. (My vote would be for “*FU”.)

  4. It’s because of the nature of telecom billing practices, such as bill-and-keep. There are multiple ways that calls are billed, this is just one method.

    With bill-and-keep, TelcoA and TelcoB interconnect, accepting calls from each other; but they each bill their own customers and bill nothing to each other.

    This works best when traffic from each side is approximately the same, of course.

    Under this practice, there is no way for an inconvenienced TelcoA customer to do anything to a TelcoB customer.

  5. I am really tired of hearing a saved voice saying “goodbye!” just after answering the phone and then recieving ten calls in a raw from India, advertising all sorts of nonesense. Regulations are much needed now.

  6. Will this disproportionately affect non-white people? The author singles out humans in India, so he (assuming he currently identifies as male) certainly has problem with brown people?

  7. There is no real solution to this problem until when telecom companies disallow phone number spoofing over their lines.

  8. My default ringtone is “No Ring.” If anyone wishes to contact me, they must first leave a message identifying themselves, so I can add their number to the whitelist with a personalized ringtone.

  9. Why do you have a landline? What’s the point anymore? I don’t think cell phones get spammed as badly and this becomes a non-problem for most people.

  10. Why a landline? There is no public Verizon Wireless service in most parts of our Boston suburb, including within our house. The VZ extender that plugs into our network is pretty feeble. I should probably just unplug it and rely on WiFi calling within the house.

    For my expert witness work I do periodic conference calls with lawyers. The landline is much better quality than than iPhone (though the iPhone on FaceTime is better than the landline). I also use the landline to call people for interviews, etc.

    Getting rid of the landline would not eliminate spam calls. I probably get 6 or 8 spam calls on my VZ mobile phone every day.

  11. I get maybe one spam call a week on my cell phone. Didn’t know it was a big problem.

    Fixing problems like these is very constitutionally and essentially what the federal government is for, unlike section 8. I don’t know why some coalition of politicians can’t score cheap points by fixing it. I understand why breaking up the ISP regional price fixing cartels would be tricky. Fixing spam phone calls is a total no-brainer.

  12. “everyone agrees that the FCC actually is supposed to regulate the legacy phone network and nobody complains that, under the FCC’s watch, the phone network has turned into an instrument of torture.”

    I don’t think it’s true that nobody complains about it, but the impact is mitigated for two reasons:

    1. Many people use their cell phones for talking with people that they want to talk to. The only reason that I have a landline phone plugged in is for when the alarm company calls to confirm a false alarm. When my landline rings, I walk over to it, pick it up, and hang it up, all without listening or speaking. It makes my wife cringe, but I point out that NO ONE that we want to talk with has our number. WE don’t even remember our number.

    2. The current FCC chairperson, seems to genuinely consider this a serious issue. He has his minders to appease first, by concentrating on net neutrality, but I suspect that you’ll see more enforcement at some point.

    In other news, do you intend to post about the tax bill? I’m curious what you think. Most of it is as-expected, but the assault on states’ rights that they added was a bit of a surprise.

  13. Neil: I haven’t been following the details of the tax bill too carefully, mostly because I don’t believe that anything significant can be passed by this Congress. What’s the assault on states’ rights? That some versions of the bill would eliminate deductibility of state and local taxes? I’m actually in favor of getting rid of that. Massachusetts should collect what me and my neighbors have voted for, but why should Massachusetts effectively (indirectly through paying less in federal taxes) be able to collect money from Texas residents?

  14. Good God, Phil…buy an Ooma and get rid of your phone bill. You keep your number and all is well. All you pay is some form of excise tax. I’m in LA County and pay approx. $4.00 per month.

  15. phil — sorry for hijacking the thread off-topic. My states’ rights argument seems to be based on incorrect (or disingenuous) reporting of the bill. I understand the logic about state and local taxes, but disagree for a number a reasons that I’ll save for a more appropriate thread.

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