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FCC Told: You're Killing Polling as We Know It

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July 01, 2015

FCC Told: You're Killing Polling as We Know It

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

The regulatory clarification two weeks ago by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) on robo-call and auto-dial technology use has sent ripples through not just the telemarketing industry, but also the polling community.

Last week, celebrity statistician Nate Silver weighed in on the FCC’s clarification, implying that the new regulatory landscape will be an existential threat for pollsters.

"The FCC probably ought to go back to policing 'wardrobe malfunctions' and not making pollsters' jobs any harder,” Silver wrote on his blog, FiveThirtyEight.

In response to numerous recent lawsuits regarding the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), earlier this month the FCC clarified its rules regarding auto dialing technology. While the regulations are intended to prevent spammy automated calling, it also hurts pollsters because the clarification says that companies can start providing call-blocking technology to customers without violating federal law.

This hurts pollsters because polling strongly leverages auto-dialers to speed up the process of calling people for polls. If pollsters now must manually dial each person, it will balloon the cost of conducting a poll.

Increased costs will mean fewer overall polls. Fewer polls, as Silver noted, will mean less information about the population’s views on various issues.

Auto dialers such Spitfire Predictive Dialers make calling much easier because they cut down on the wait time between calls. The software paces the dialing, and only connects pollsters when a live person is on the other end. This greatly improves speed and cuts down on wasted man-hours.

The problem is teasing out legitimate auto dialer use from unscrupulous marketing where businesses leverage the technology to pound their message to helpless consumers. The TCPA is intended to stop the latter while still enabling the former use of auto dialers. The trouble is that it is hard to regulate against unsolicited robo calls without also affecting more noble calling campaigns that also use the technology.

It remains to be seen if pollsters will find a workaround, or if there will be outcry that will force the FCC to revisit its position.

Until then, however, the polling community is up in arms over the latest pronouncement by the FCC.

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