John Oliver robocalls Ajit Pai and Trump’s FCC every 90 minutes, telling them to end robocalls

psbsve / Flickr John Oliver mocks Louis C K...
psbsve / Flickr

John Oliver took on robocalls this week on his Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. In March 2018, Trump-appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai lauded a federal court’s decision to strike down an anti-robocall bit of consumer protections that took effect under President Barack Obama. At the time, Pai promised to find “consumer friendly” ways to stop robocalls. FCC Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel issued this statement about the decision:

Robocalls are already out of control. One thing is clear in the wake of today’s court decision: robocalls will continue to increase unless the FCC does something about it. That means that the same agency that had the audacity to take away your net neutrality rights is now on the hook for protecting you from the invasion of annoying robocalls. It’s past time for the American public to get a serious response from the FCC—and a reprieve from the unrelenting nuisance these calls have become for so many of us.”

Since that time, Ajit Pai has told telecoms to stop robocalling and telecoms have decided to not care what Ajit Pai says, because who takes a shill like Pai seriously? Oliver points out that Pai’s FCC hasn’t done much of anything to end robocalls or even stem the proliferation of robocalls, and part of the problem is that the practice of “spoofing,” which changes the caller’s identity so the person looking at their phone believes it is coming from a number in their area code and possibly someone they know, is not regulated. After showing Sen. Susan Collins explaining spoofing during a Senate Committee hearing, Oliver took this perfect dig.


Oliver: You know spoofing is actually the perfect technology for Susan Collins to be demonstrating because think about it, it’s all about temporarily pretending to be one thing and then disappointing everyone when you reveal who you actually are.

It is less about robocalls and more about pointing out what a terrible person Sen. Collins is, but it’s still pretty great. But as Oliver points out, robocalls are getting worse, and projected by some experts to become half of all calls over the next year. After presenting some of the amazing and terrifying robocalling artificial intelligence software starting to be employed, Oliver directs the conversation back to Ajit Pai.
Oliver: For instance he could require them to offer free call blocking services or implement something called call authentication which could significantly curtail spoofing but he hasn’t done that instead what he’s done is urged them to do it.

Maybe republicans like Ajit Pai do not want to do anything about robocalls because they suspiciously benefit from robocalls targeting seniors with fear mongering, fact-free propaganda attacking net neutrality? Oliver explains that his tech guy figured out how to make robocalls to all five FCC committee members, and using this technology was ready to send them all this message, every 90 minutes.

Hi FCC, this is John from customer service. Congratulations, you’ve just won a chance to lower robocalls in America, today! [laughs] Sorry, but I am a live person. Robocalls are incredibly annoying and the person who can stop them is you. Talk to you again in 90 minutes. Here is some bagpipe music. [music plays]
And just like credit card companies and the like hide your opt-in to robocalls deep in their terms of agreement while also making it very difficult to opt out, Oliver offered a similar option to the FCC members—just send a mailed letter opting out to an address they could find somewhere in the pages of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick that scrawled across the screen.
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