United States of America
Federal Communications Commission
In the Matter of
Rules and Policies Regarding ) CC Docket No. 91-281
Calling Number Identification )
Service -- Caller ID )
Reply to Oppositions
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR)
A. Box 717
Palo Alto, CA 94301
C. SE 73rd St.
Portland OR 97208
August 17, 1994
Table Of Contents.Summary 1
On Line Blocking Availability and Discrimination. 2
Evaluating the Costs and Benefits of New Product Offerings. 1
CPN Ineffective for Residential Customers 1
CPN's Value Minor for Business Communications. 2
The Importance of Unlisted Numbers. 2
CPE for Line Blocking. 4
On the Appropriateness of This FCC Decision At This Time 5
The CPN and related Bellcore "Class" services have been carefully implemented in most states in a process involving a great deal of energetic public participation. The FCC's order would effectively turns the clock back on public safety and privacy by preempting the actions that the states were forced to take due to citizen involvement. One respondent noted that it would be reactionary to withdraw features such as line blocking that have already been instituted to provide public safety and privacy.
Several responses to the Petitions for Reconsideration expressed sympathy for the plight of law enforcement and domestic violence shelters under the FCC's order, but the true extent of citizens who require line blocking for their personal safety defies categorization, so the choice must be left to the individual. No bureaucracy can respond quickly enough to personal crises that create an urgent need for reliably anonymous calling. For this reason, the FCC should require free per call and per line blocking, preempting those states that don’t provide currently provide free per line blocking.
Several respondents evaluated the costs of line blocking and compared them to the benefits of the Calling Party Number (CPN) service. This invites a comparison of the costs of CPN versus the benefits of confidential unlisted numbers (the premier privacy protecting product), and other benefits provided by the existing network. The convenience of being able to screen calls using CPN probably would be offset by the increased number of calls to screen. If we had to choose between confidential unlisted numbers and CPN, we would have to reject CPN service altogether. Fortunately, the free availability of per line blocking allows both services to coexist gracefully.
It was noted in the responses that the value of CPN has been inflated by the FCC. Actually it is a poor match for residential customers needs, and is only temporarily valuable for business to business communications.
U S West argued that unlisted numbers are ineffective because even without CPN they cannot be kept confidential. Actually unlisted numbers are the most popular and important privacy and safety enhancing frequently feature available, and they are frequently kept confidential.
Several of the respondents claimed that the availability of "cheap" imported CPE devices which attempt to mimic the functionality of per line blocking eliminates the need for the LEC to provide the service. CPSR contends that CPE devices are not reliable enough to be used to protect personal safety, and that relying upon them is inherently discriminatory because of a deficit of multilingual customer education and technical knowledge. Requiring the purchase and installation of CPE devices for line blocking is also inefficient and harmful to the US economy.
The Calling Party Number service (CPN) is a "hot button" issue for many citizens. It drew unprecedented public involvement in most of the States of the union, which helped shape the service offerings in place now. Without public involvement and without considering the requirements for public safety established in the state hearings, the FCC has ordered a stunning reversal of the major personal safety protections currently provided in several states.
The FCC's order on CPN generated many requests for reconsideration. The current FCC order looks a lot like the state's draft orders before the public requirements for public safety and privacy were evaluated and incorporated.
On Line Blocking Availability and Discrimination.
Many respondents to the petitions for reconsideration expressed laudable sympathy for the plight of law enforcement and domestic violence shelters who will face direct violent personal encounters if the Commission's order is adopted as it stands. The danger to them of attempting to use unreliable manual per-call blocking or CPE devices has been well established in state hearings. For example Sprint supports line blocking for law enforcement and domestic violence shelters, when approval is granted by state legislatures or agencies. (Sprint's Opposition to Reconsideration p. 6)
But many other people need line blocking. For example, it is not the domestic violence shelters that need line blocking, but the victims of domestic violence and their counselors, a minority of whom are housed in shelters. Many of these victims stay in the homes of friends or volunteers. In any of these locations, CPN is a threat because it enables the abuser to monitor and control their communications.
But there are many other classes of professionals who deserve protection. Many medical professionals who call their patients from home need line blocking- particularly psychologists and drug counselors. Process servers, AIDS clinics, and others can also make a case for why it is important and in the national interest for them to be allowed to have line blocking. Doctors may no longer make house calls, but they do still make calls from home, and line blocking makes it feasible. Many of these institutions, such as domestic violence shelters, are just scraping by financially and are unable to afford to spend any money on CPE devices that mimic line blocking.
The true numbers of people who need line blocking defies categorization. By eliminating the option altogether, the FCC adopts a position which can be described as murderously absolutist.
The FCC should require free per call and per line blocking, preempting those states that do not currently provide these services.
Evaluating the Costs and Benefits of New Product Offerings.
Several of the Local Exchange Carrier's (LEC) Opposition to Reconsideration submissions express concern about excessivly diluting the potential of CPN by allowing customers to use per-line blocking to prevent the carrier from selling their number to CPN customers. (Bellsouth "Comments and Opposition" p. 16)
CPN is no more the primary business of the common carriers than timber clear cutting is to the managers of New York’s Central Park. The earning potential of such a business would be diluted if individuals were allowed to prevent their favorite trees from being cut. But there are other factors that make Central Park logging, like CPN, counter-productive to society as well as unprofitable in the long run.
We need to consider the negative revenue implications of CPN as well as the economic benefits of it. Some people will stop paying for unlisted numbers when the service is compromised by Caller-ID. Some people will be forced to purchase an expensive and inconvenient form of call screening service or simply stop answering their phones when the ratio of desired to undesired callers diminishes. The inability to control the electronic distribution of one’s phone number and personal profile will impose many hidden costs on society as frustrated citizens withdraw from some forms of commerce and communication. For example, some people already avoid calling advertised 800 numbers because of the horror stories circulating about the abuse of ANI derived numbers.
If you have a confidential unlisted number, your phone only rings when an invited guest is calling, except for the occasional misdial. No one would trade that for a freely available number that rings for all the riff-raff that target you. It is costly to get up, stop what you are doing, and study a Caller ID display and try to quickly guess who is calling based upon the number or name associated with the phone they are using at the moment. The CPN option also costs more money, which makes the unlisted number choice even more preferable. But this poor trade is exactly the choice that the FCC plans to force upon everyone.
CPN Ineffective for Residential Customers
CPN wasn’t designed from the ground up to be useful to residential customers. It grew out of the obvious applications of SS7 switching, which was implemented to improve the efficiency of the carrier's internal operations. Because it grew out of the capabilities of the existing hardware and software instead of being intentionally designed, glaring deficiencies exist in the system from the perspective of a residential customer.
The first deficiency most people notice is that in an ironic contradiction of the service's most common popular name "Caller ID", most calls cannot be placed with the calling party’s identity. The identity of the phone line’s bill payer will be sent instead. Many wives prefer not to introduce themselves by their husband's name, but that is the only affordable option provided by this offensive system. In fact in most cases the "identity" is just a phone number, which people are not used to recognizing by sight. This is most useful to businesses who have computers to interpret the phone numbers for them.
Sprint Corporation (Petition for Reconsideration p. 9) actually calls the FCC’s statement on the benefits of CPN, "nothing more than ‘motherhood and apple pie.’ " when pointing out that no data are available to suggest that CPN will have a dramatic positive secondary effect on the economy.
CPN's Value Minor for Business Communications.
Nor does CPN provide much utility for the future of business to business communications. Real digital communications such as internet based e-mail are superior for business-to-business communications such as order entry. They can provide privacy through the Digital Encryption Standard, security through the Digital Signature Standard, and precision due to the use of written language rather than the telephone network's obsolete reliance on the human dictation of spoken orders. Digital communications also can allow the interpretation or fulfillment of a purchase order to be automated.
Adding less than 256 bytes of incomplete digital data to a telephone call as CPN does is a far cry from the information superhighway. Digital business-to-business communications such as e-mail or fax are growing tremendously, and these services will continue to eclipse the value of CPN for business to business communications.
The Importance of Unlisted Numbers.
Because unlisted numbers are compromised by a CPN system that does not allow per line blocking, there has been an effort by parties that oppose the reconsideration to diminish the value of this essential service, which is in fact the most important privacy protecting telephone feature available. For example U S West makes a surprising and perhaps offensive statement about how their customers are incapable of keeping their unlisted numbers secret.
These kinds of remarks are themselves remarkable for the environmental factors they ignore. They suggest that the only way, or at least the primary and most significant way, that a telephone number-- whether published or unpublished -- makes its way into the marketing industry is through the making of a telephone call. That is just plain wrong. (Emphasis in original. Comments of U S West Communications, p. 6.)
Actually CPSR’s comments addressed only "confidential unlisted numbers" which are unlisted numbers whose distribution has been carefully controlled by their owners as far as is possible. U S West continues,
Like addresses, telephone numbers often appear "in many public records: voting registration rolls, property assessment rolls, motor vehicle registration rolls, etc., all of which are open to public inspection. "
U S West’s claim that residential customers are required to place their unlisted numbers on publicly accessible government documents is incorrect. US citizens are not required to have a phone, so they cannot be required to provide a phone number. If institutional demands for telephone numbers could not be evaded it would be possible to obtain a listed second number or answering service. U S West continues,
CPSR’s suggestion is logically flawed in its most fundamental particulars. A phone number of an individual is undoubtedly already in various databases. No single phone call made in 1994 or later is going to significantly affect that fact one way or the other.
The question is not how most people obtain the phone numbers they call - the answer to that is obvious - the white pages. The question is whether a person who asks for and receives a unlisted number should be given a fair chance to keep it confidential, or whether the LEC will instead instantly breach its contract as the customer understood it.
Suppose I obtain a new unlisted number today, and keep it secret, but call "The Fantasy Line" (an ANI subscriber that sells a list of their callers) or a CPE based telemarketing data gatherer such as a ski resort. In a direct contradiction to U S West assertion, a significant and unfortunate change will have occurred with a single phone call. That single phone call will have published the formerly confidential unlisted phone number in widely available lists. A number that was secret one day will be available the next for a small fee to every detective agency or telemarketer on the information super-highway.
It is easy to keep an unlisted number secret when Caller-ID and ANI are not in the picture. Just get the number, and tell it to nobody untrustworthy. Millions of people have done this successfully for years. This is why our famous and infamous notable citizens can have bedside phones that do not ring all the time. Why US West claims that everyone's number is "undoubtably already in various databases" is a mystery.
We should be careful not to assume that residential telephone customers are happy with the current situation. In fact many recent media exposés such as PBS’s NOVA entitled "We Know Who You Are." have shocked and alarmed many citizens, who did not know how efficiently information on purchases, sweepstakes entry forms, ANI calls and warrantee registration cards is currently being distributed and collated.
Widespread availability of lists of unlisted numbers seems to be increasing as information surreptitiously gathered from 800 and 900 number ANI subscribers such as "The Fantasy Line" are distributed.
The fact that many customers don’t keep their unlisted numbers closely held secrets doesn’t imply that they want the carriers to distribute them to everybody they dial or misdial.
Unlisted numbers are essential for the personal safety and political rights of many citizens. It would place a profound chilling effect on public discourse if people taking unpopular political positions knew that they were giving up the ability to have a usable home phone. Even citizens who do not posses unlisted numbers depend on their integrity for possible future use.
If we had to choose between a system that protects confidential unlisted numbers, and the CPN system as a whole, we would have to choose to keep the unlisted option. The presence of free line-blocking is all that keeps us from having to oppose Caller-ID in general, since it provides a way to have both the personal safety provided by the privacy of unlisted numbers and Caller-ID.
CPE for Line Blocking.
Several of the respondents claimed that the availability of "cheap" imported CPE devices which imitate line blocking eliminates the responsibility of the LEC's to provide the real line blocking service. (See Comments of U S West p. 11)
These imported CPE devices attempt to mimic the functionality of per line blocking but without the trustworthy reliability provided by American central office switching technology which was specified by Bellcore and which has been implemented by the switch vendors at a considerable cost.
The order and some of the respondents praise the cost of CPE devices by suggesting that they will encourage people to think seriously about whether they really want to choose line blocking. But the cost of CPE devices is not uniform and is therefore unfair and unreliable as a deterent. Relying on a physical gadget unfairly penalizes rural customers who would have to travel to a major city or pay a high ordering and shipping surcharge to obtain one.
It is difficult to explain why there should be a policy difference between two mechanisms that supposedly provide the same functionality. Why should line blocking be panned when CPE is praised unless CPE gadgets are not really equally convenient or effective.
Mandating the use of CPE devices where line blocking is needed is inherently discriminatory because only a well informed, technically proficient minority of customers are affluent and numerous enough to be targeted by the CPE marketer's advertisments. Only this small minority will be aware of the existence of such CPE and be able to purchase, install, test and operate it correctly. People who speak minority languages or who never enter "Radio Shack" or similar stores are unlikely to hear about this option. The LEC's are equipped to deal with people who speak minority languages as well as communicating with people who have a non-technical orientation, so only the LEC's can make sure the service is available in a non-discriminatory fashion.
Forcing Americans to buy imported gadgets when better American hardware is already in place that can perform the same function hurts the US balance of trade and the U S economy. In addition, the switch vendors who spent money developing per line blocking will not recover that investment if the functionality is not used.
On the Appropriateness of This FCC Decision At This Time
It is too late to withdraw privacy protections that citizens of many states expect, have accepted and grown comfortable with. However such protections can be extended. The commission, the administration, and the carriers will share the brunt of the outrage when citizens have their privacy rights stripped away only for minor improvements in the revenues telemarketers make through accelerated order processing and the sale of customer profiles.
U S West suggests that the FCC is right to redesign the Caller ID system without broad based citizen input because the commission’s unique national perspective causes it to see the overriding national public interest. (U S West Comments, p.9) This is illogical because a telephone call works the same way whether or not it crosses state boundaries. Therefore there cannot possibly be any differences in the costs or benefits of CPN technology between interstate and intrastate calls. The FCC is not considering a new situation, it is merely reconsidering an issue that has been more carefully considered before. The main difference between the FCC's deliberations and the states is that the FCC has so far not had the benefit of real information from real customers about their real personal safety issues.
The FCC should not preempt the state's policies without careful consideration of the reasons they made their difficult decisions. Most states started out with a proposal much like the FCC’s current order, but were pursuaded in the final more careful analysis to provide public safety and privacy protections that go beyond the FCC’s order. Interstate consistency is a laudable goal, but secondary to public safety. Interstate consistency of public safety is the step the FCC should take, mandating that both per call and per line blocking be available to all interstate callers free of charge.
Created before October 2004