At a Congressional hearing, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) asked Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler about his agency's new Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and their impact on polling: "I know you spoke out and said, basically, pollsters could go the way of... blacksmiths, I guess."

Chairman Wheeler flippantly responded that, "Well, they have been, right?"

A recent article in CQ Weekly exploring the history of the TCPA and telephone survey research, talked about how a law originally intended to combat abusive telemarketing practices eventually grew to curtail legitimate research activities.

Back in the days "before the FCC ruling, there were a variety of ways to dial cellphones," says Howard Fienberg, the director of government affairs for the Marketing Research Association:

"You'd have systems where a dialer popus up a number and a person hits a key and the computer dials it. Now, the FCC thinks it's an autodialer call" because the interviewer is not physically dialing the number.

Fienberg contends that Congress only meant to ban specific autodialing systems that call many numbers at once, randomly or in sequence and require no human operator.

Still, plaintiffs' attorneys are targeting violators, so the stakes are high.

... In the meantime, Fienberg is trying to build support in Congress for a new law that could loosen the strictures on calling cellphones. But he admits it's a hard sell: "It's very easy to demonize any effort to reform" the 1991 law, Fienberg says.

CQ also looked back at an attempt in 2011 by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) to modernize the TCPA:

"Everyone trying to support the bill got crucified," Fienberg recalls. But he believes that Americans' changing habits, combined with an educational campaign by marketers and pollsters, could persuade Congress to reconsider.

In the meantime, he says the FCC rules are hastening the move to Internet surveys, which lack the scientific rigor of phone polls but are cheaper and free to onerous regulation. "There's no doubt," he says.

SOURCE: "The Trouble With Polls." By Shawn Zeller. CQ Weekly. Jan. 11, 2016.