The Phone Company Made Me Do It

Art Brodsky
4 min readFeb 28, 2023

OK, I admit it. I’m not proud of it, but I am not going to cover it up.

The phone company made me do it.

I didn’t want to drop my landline, but they forced my hand.

I know, I know. Lots of people have dropped their landlines in favor of going wireless-only. For the longest time, I didn’t want to be one of those people. I liked my landline.

Granted, it didn’t do all the fancy things that a cellphone does. A landline doesn’t text or browse or do video calls. That’s fine, that’s what the cell phone (or tablet, or whatever) is for.

What the landline had going for it were two important features — convenience and reliability. With a mobile phone, you have to know the phone number of the person you’re calling, which can be a lot when each person in a household has a different number. Even if those numbers are all stored in your phone, you still might have to call more than one to find the person you’re looking for.

Reliability was always the mainstay of the landline. In the old days, before the telephone companies abandoned copper lines, the telephone was powered from the local telephone company facility. That way, even if the power went out, the phone was still work through the copper. At times when cell service was spotty, and that could be often, you knew the telephone would get a call through. Cell phone companies were notorious for fighting a proposal from the Federal Communications Commission that they provide backup power at their cell sites — and this was after Hurricane Katrina and other disasters.

These days, if you have fiber connected to your house, as many do, the backup power comes from a battery that the phone (or cable) company is happy to sell to you.

But I digress. Too many of the calls we were getting on our landline were from Nicole or Rachel or Marie who admitted that their calls might be “super random,” or words to that effect, but called anyway because they were local homebuyers who had been working in “your area” (not specified) and even though they were certain I was getting calls like her all the time (I do) and thought I wasn’t interested in selling my house (I’m not) they thought to check in anyway, just in case.

Of course, the callback number they left never matched the number on the screen, which is somewhat sleazy. One time, I picked up the phone and spoke to one of these callers, who happened this time to be a guy because I like to play along. He asked a bunch of questions about the house, which I answered over the course of 10 minutes or so. Then he asked how much I wanted for it, and I replied with a price in the millions of dollars, far above what the house is really worth.

He hung up, and then called me back and bitched at me for wasting his time. Mission accomplished, as they say.

These spam calls have been going on for decades. Congress passed its first law to try to curb them back in the 1990s. The Federal Trade Commission has a “do not call” list that is supposed to keep the creepy callers away. It doesn’t seem helpful. Every once in a while, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fines some robocaller lots of money, but those penalties haven’t slowed anything down.

In the last couple of years, the Commission has adopted “the STIR/SHAKEN caller identification framework,” supposedly a technical solution that this time will stop the robocalls where all of the others haven’t. Call me skeptical.

The reason none of those schemes will work comes down to money. There is enough of it sloshing around that the companies behind the spam calls can afford to keep going even if they get fined. The telephone companies have no incentive to crack down because they get paid for use of their lines, regardless of the purpose to which they are being put.

I have a suggestion that hasn’t been tried — cutting off the spammer’s oxygen by taking away the phone numbers they use to make calls and making sure they, or anyone connected to them, can’t get more.

Just as you get a number for your cellphone, or a company subscribes to a phone service and gets its numbers, the spammers have to do the same. Every call can be traced back to a phone number. Whoever has subscribed to the number not only gets the number taken away, they can’t get another one (or, more likely, many more other ones). So if someone (or someones) with Spam, Inc., gets caught and their number is yanked, they can’t go out and start Robocall Inc. and get more numbers because their name (or names) are on file.

Phone companies would have to assist because their lines are involved. Maybe they could be forced to give back any money paid for the misused lines.

That’s just an idea for your consideration. Now excuse me, my cell is ringing. Do I know someone in Mobile?