If you live in South Mississippi, chances are you know "Heather."
You answer the phone and say hello.
Then there's a familiar, ominous silence and a click.
Then the relentlessly cheerful, but somewhat disembodied voice of "Heather." She's calling because you have stayed at one of their resorts. You haven't. But even if you say so, "Heather" steams ahead.
You hang up in midsentence. A coworker nods and asks "Heather?"
In March alone, Mississippi was invaded by 31.3 million robocalls, according to the YouMail Robocall Index. The 228 area code received 2.8 million. Jackson, which rarely rates near the top in anything, is in the Top 50 most robocalled cities. Last year, the state received a record 325 million robocalls, a record it is on pace to shatter.
Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that held a hearing on abusive robocalls last week, said Democrats and Republicans likely agreed on at least one issue. The need to rein in the "Heathers" of the world.
We agree. Consumer advocates, such as the National Consumer Law Center, agree. The FCC needs to do more to stop them. Among the suggestions given to the Senate committee:
▪ Ensure that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 covers automated calls and texts to cell phones.
▪ Regulate caller ID spoofing.
▪ Make phone companies offer call blocking systems.
▪ Make it easier for consumer to opt out of robocalls and texts.
Mississippi Public Service Committee Chairman Brandon Presley also has heard enough from "Heather." He's having the PSC staff investigate how much money, if any, phone companies make off the calls. And he's asking the PSC, which already has an app that makes getting on the do-not-call list easy, to require the companies to offer free robocall blocking technology. He wants to stop ID spoofing, too, and he's willing to stop awarding federal money that passes through the PSC to any company that does not cooperate.
"No one could do more to stop the scourge of robocalls than cellular companies," Presley said. "The companies could and should be doing more. Some have apps, some don’t but all of them should explain to the PSC what they are doing to stop these calls before we approve one more penny of federal money."
We agree. Goodbye, Heather.