John Oliver has a vicious plan to annoy the FCC into curbing robocalls, the only thing all Americans still hate

John Oliver calls the FCC
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/Last Week Tonight)

"Everybody is annoyed by robocalls — hatred of them might be the only thing that everyone in America agrees on now," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "And if you've been feeling like you've been getting more of them recently, you're actually right." Robocalls increased by 57 percent in 2018, to nearly 50 billion in the U.S., according to the Federal Communications Commission. "Sixty percent of all complaints to the FCC are about robocalls, so they're definitely aware of the problem," he added.

Most of Oliver's show was about "why robocalls are on the rise, and what can be done about them," and the "why" has to do with cheap technology, cheaper phone calls, and lax regulation, including a feckless National Do Not Call Registry and "something called 'spoofing,'" which allows robocallers to pretend to be calling from your areas, or even from your contact list.

"Experts advise you not to engage with robocalls at all — don't pick up, and don't talk if you do answer," Oliver said. Still, "it should not entirely be up to us to deal with this bulls--t. The FCC has the authority to police robocalls, and a few years back, they actually put some guardrails in place with a set of rules designed to limit them." The rules were successfully blocked by a trade group, and robocalls skyrocketed.

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There are still things the FCC could do, but "unfortunately, their current chair is this guy, Ajit Pai," who "opposed those rules that we mentioned earlier and was extremely happy when they were overturned," Oliver said. Now, experts are really worried that Pai will "bow to pressure from groups like telemarketers and banks, and draft a new, narrower definition of what constitutes auto-dialing," essentially limiting what would count as a robocall. "If only there was a way to get the FCC's attention on this issue," he said. Of course he had one, and you can admire its brutal simplicity below. Peter Weber

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