Season Six of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver is now underway, and Oliver wasted no time getting to a problem that has only been getting worse: robocalls. An estimated 26.3 billion robocalls were made to U.S. phones in 2018, a 46% rise from 2017, and the problem is growing. First Orion estimates nearly half of all phone calls made to U.S. mobile phones in 2019 will be from robocallers.
On Sunday’s episode, John Oliver said something needs to be done. “We can’t go back to the days when people would just shout their message into a jar and then mail that jar across the country, because that was a terrible system and only marginally more accurate than having AT&T now.”
60% of all complaints made to the FCC are now about robocalls, according to CBS News, and yet the FCC hasn’t required any changes, and Oliver’s longtime nemesis (and “goober,” in Oliver’s words) FCC chairman Ajit Pai seemed to be happy about existing consumer protections being removed. Last November, Pai “urged” carriers to use the SHAKEN/STIR protocol for authentication, but — as Oliver points out in the video above — the FCC hasn’t actually required carriers take any of the easy steps they could to address the problem. And since stopping robocallers isn’t required, most carriers just let them run roughshod over us all. (Some T-Mobile phones will mark real callers as “caller verified,” which seems to be the best we can hope for right now.)
“If only there was a way to get the FCC’s attention,” Oliver said, before announcing their plan. Last Week Tonight has launched a robocalling prank on all five FCC commissioners: Michael O’Rielly, Geoffrey Starks, Jessica Rosenworcel, Brendan Carr, and aforementioned goober Ajit Pai. It took a tech employee for the show “15 minutes” to figure out how to set up a robocalling system, and now the FCC commissioners will be receiving a robocall message every 90 minutes:
“Hi FCC! This is John from Customer Service. Congratulations! You’ve just won a chance to lower robocalls in America today. Sorry, but I am a live person. Robocalls are incredibly annoying, and the person who can stop them is you! Talk to you again in 90 minutes. Here’s some bagpipe music:”
Oliver launched the robocalls by pressing a big red button which moved a giant hand which pressed a giant red button to set the robocalling system in motion.
Just before slamming the red button, Oliver addressed the five FCC officials. “If you want to tell us that you don’t consent to be robocalled, that’s absolutely no problem,” he explained. “Just write a certified letter to the address that we’ve buried somewhere within the first chapter of Moby Dick that’s currently scrolling up the screen. You got that, right? You got it. Find the address, write us a letter, and we’ll stop the calls immediately. And if you’re thinking that there should be a simpler way to opt out, well… no shit.”