Friday, July 26, 2013

Suing telemarketers (and their enablers)

Some people know that over the course of the last semester, I sued a telemarketing company in small claims court lawsuit for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. A story about that lawsuit, authored by myself and some classmates, has been posted over at the Life of the Law. Due to space constraints, it doesn't have all the details, but it provides a good overview of what was certainly my most personal foray into consumer protection laws:
Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in 1991 to put a stop to unsolicited phone calls. The TCPA is rather unique because it specifically allows individuals who receive these illegal calls to sue the telemarketers in small claims court where the average person can get justice for minor damages and they don’t need a law degree to do so. It offers plaintiffs relief of between $500 to $1500 for violations. 
It is illegal under the TCPA to initiate or cause to be initiated “any call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using any automatic telephone dialing system [ATDS] . . . [to any] cellular telephone service.” 
The TCPA also prohibits “any call using any automatic telephone dialing system to any cellular telephone service.” In short, those annoying automated Averett had been getting are illegal under federal law. So, with the help of some fellow Macalester students, he sought protection under the law.
The full story behind them company I sued, Callerid4u, can be found on the Telecom Complaince News Press. To sum it up: they are a "telecom utility" company that makes money by routing millions of illegal robocalls thorough US numbers (instead of online) and sharing the resulting "dip fee" revenue with overseas telemarketers.

I also ended up losing my small claims court lawsuit, which alleged that Callerid4u "caused to be initiated" illegal robocalls by sharing the per-call revenue with telemarketers. It seems clear that new legislation will be required to end this practice, but I have little hope anything will get done in the current political environment. I emailed the information on that blog, which is all sourced and appears to be accurate, to a number of press organizations and legislators. No dice so far.

But I haven't gotten a robocall on my cell phone since.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Admissions Practices and Pulling Calves

Every year, Macalester's Admissions Department puts up a class profile showing some statistics about the incoming class of freshmen. This year, the Class of 2017 came from 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. It doesn't say how many, or what percentage, came from a rural area. So I thought I would write about my experience being a rural student at Macalester, and do my best to explain for any of my interested urban and suburban classmates what it is like to come from a small town in the middle of nowhere to the big-city environs of Macalester.

I started thinking about this back in March, when the New York Times published an article highlighting a simple problem confronting college admissions departments - low income, highly talented high school students aren't applying to "selective" colleges (as defined by Barron's top 238). According to a study by the Brookings Institution, only 34% - about a third - of high achieving, low income students attended selective colleges. Many of these students could probably get in - if they would apply. But they don't. The authors noted that the students who don't apply to selective colleges do so because they are from:
[school] districts too small to support selective public high schools, are not in a critical mass of fellow high achievers, and are unlikely to encounter a teacher or schoolmate from an older cohort who attended a selective college.
In response to this study, Professor Claire Watkins of Bucknell published an excellent Op-Ed for the Times, describing the challenges rural students like herself had faced in attempting to apply to selective colleges. She talked about the experience that she and a friend had while traveling to enter an academic competition in Nevada in high school:
Looking to size up the competition, we asked what high school he went to. He said a name we didn’t recognize and added, “It’s a magnet school.” Ryan asked what a magnet school was, and spent the remaining hour incredulously demanding a detailed account of the young man’s educational history: his time abroad, his after-school robotics club, his tutors, his college prep courses. 
All educations, we realized then, are not created equal. For Ryan and me, of Pahrump, Nev., just an hour from the city, the Vegas boy was a citizen of a planet we would never visit. 
Now, I am not a "high-achieving, low-income" student. I was fortunate enough to be born into a family with a relatively high income,  and both my parents had four-year degrees from a good state university. But I am a rural student. Home is a small ranch in Baker County, Oregon. Baker City (the county seat) is an old, struggling mill town in Northeastern Oregon that is about a two hour drive from Boise in Idaho and a five hour drive from Portland, the state's main population center.