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Reality Check
September 2003

Robert Vahid Hashemian Do Not Call; Just Spam Please


Did you do it? Did you add your name to the FTC�s �do-not-call-registry�? On June 27th, with much fanfare, FTC began to collect phone numbers from people who wanted to block telemarketers from calling their numbers.

Frankly, I just can�t see what all the fuss is about. It�s true that I work for a company that is closely tied to the call center industry, but even before I joined my current company, telemarketers never quite made it to the top of my ire list. I never bought anything from them and if I wasn�t in the mood to listen, I would just hang up. Fact of the matter is that cold-call telemarketing is intrinsically self-regulating. There is considerable cost involved in purchasing dialing equipment, telecom services, hiring agents, and providing support systems to make it in that business, and outsourcing is not cheap either. Direct mail, which is another source of frustration for some people, also has its inherent costs.

While we go about fixing a nuisance, the real monster, spam, has grown bigger and uglier and will soon dwarf both the telemarketing and direct mail issues. Businesses and people are drowning in it and by some estimates it already comprises half the e-mail traffic on the Internet. The trouble with spam is more than just dealing with its sheer volume. When was the last time a telemarketer called you with the offer of raunchy videos? When was the last time you received a direct mail with explicit pictures? Now go and take a look at your e-mails for just today and see how many of these offers you can find. Unfortunately the new telemarketing rule falls way short of giving us the true flexibility in dictating the terms under which we wish to be contacted (or not contacted at all).

Well, get ready for even more spam to pour into your inbox. As marketing companies come to terms with the new telemarketing rule, they will no-doubt shift their strategies to other means of communications and e-mail will inevitably land at the top of their lists. In fact, they may find it refreshing that spamming costs a fraction of telemarketing, encouraging them to take it to the max.

Today�s communications comprises a complex jumble of devices and mechanisms. SMS, e-mail, and instant messaging are a sample of these mechanisms. The April issue of this magazine had an interesting primer on ENUM, which is the DNS-based technology used to translate telephone numbers to Internet addresses over a variety of protocols such as SIP. What strikes me about ENUM and similar technologies is how they are changing the telecommunications landscape, blurring the lines between the traditional and contemporary technologies. For example, today�s notion of a phone number leading to a telephone set will eventually dissolve as interoperating devices begin to invade each other�s realms.

It is quite feasible that a spammer in a not-too-distant future would ring your phone and play a recording without dialing your phone number directly, therefore completely bypassing the FTC�s registry with impunity. The point is that sometimes it�s best to let the forces of competition, markets, and the economy handle many issues. Of course, other times a little involvement wouldn�t hurt. Devising an effective method to tax spammers? Now that�s something I�m all for.

I normally don�t engage in book recommendations in my column, but this particular volume had a reference to a Windows-based network packet capture tool, which ultimately came in very handy while troubleshooting network issues at our recent Planet PDA show in Boston.

The book is titled C# Network Programming by Richard Blum and is published by Sybex. It is mainly geared towards .NET programmers who have some familiarity with TCP/IP networks. It makes a great reference for network programmers interested in developing applications in C#. It is also a good tutorial of TCP/IP networking in its own right. I found the book well organized with ample examples. The topics discussed progressively build on top of each other at a logical pace.

As for the tool I earlier alluded to, it is mentioned in Chapter 2. For those of you who are Linux/Unix versed, surely the tcpdump program has crossed your path a time or two. tcpdump is a packet capture program that blurts the packet information sequentially to the user�s screen. It requires the packet-capture library known as libpcap to be installed before it can be utilized. tcpdump is one of my favorite network troubleshooting programs. However I always wished for a similar program on Windows. Thankfully, this book made a reference to just such tool, windump, and its required library, winpcap. Another great network troubleshooting tool that utilizes the winpcap library is the Analyzer program, which has a fairly intuitive GUI and a respectable number of protocol and packet recognizers.

During our recent Planet PDA Expo in Boston, we ran into severe degradation in response time on the Wi-Fi network. The slowdown had all the signs of a node flooding the network, but how could we identify the errant node? Analyzer program to the rescue. With a short capture time, we immediately identified the rogue node and booted it off, allowing the network to regain its healthy status. These tools can be downloaded for free here.

Happy network troubleshooting.

Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality every other month in his Reality Check column. Robert is vice president of Web Development for TMCnet.com -- your online resource for CTI, Internet telephony, and call center solutions. He is also the author of Financial Markets For The Rest Of Us. He can be reached at [email protected].

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