CPNI stands for Customer Proprietary Network Information, and here in the United States, CPNI is defined as data that telecom agencies collect on the usage habits of their subscribers, folks like you and me. It includes the time, date, duration and destination number of each call, the type of network a consumer subscribes to, and any other information that appears on the consumer’s telephone bill. However, telephone company sales executives are required to obtain your consent prior to accessing your billing information, which is at the heart of the 2007 Federal Communications Commission CPNI Order. CPNI would normally require a warrant for law enforcement agencies, but it can be freely sold to “communications” related companies. To put it simply, your telephone company’s marketing and sales departments are not allowed to look at your calling and usage habits without your permission. Why? To protect you. From your telephone company’s marketing and sales departments.
So here’s the skinny: back in the “olden” days your phone company could analyze your usage data and then market specific products or services customized around the way you used your phone service. Mrs. Jones we can see that you are making a lot of calls to Nigeria; have we got a phone savings plan for you! The competition, on the other hand, felt as though this were an unfair advantage. And seriously, how could an MCI (again, this took place a while back) compete with an AT&T if AT&T had this type of information at their fingertips in addition to the veritable monopoly it had across the board? So, one can only assume that some lobbyists went to work and BAM! we got the United States Telecommunication’s Act of 1996 which gave the FCC the power to regulate CPNI. Now nobody gets to use it, unless you-the-consumer say it’s OK.
Looking back [while trying to remember what it was like at the time], I can see the point. I can. However, things have changed these days to such a degree that I wonder if CPNI regulation – to the degree that it is regulated – hasn’t in at least a couple of ways outlived its usefulness? I am certainly not proposing that our usage data be thrown out into the public all willy-nilly, but I would argue that I am a fan of targeted marketing. For example, I am married, an outdoorsman, and a long distance runner. I am also in the process of completing a doctoral program and I plan on taking a vacation to Ireland soon. As a result, through the power of online data analysis engines, when I log into my Facebook account I do not see ads of little interest to me. Rather, I see ads about running shoes, tents, research centers, travel, and the like. Instead of being offered online GED classes or access to dating sites, the ads I receive are focused on – and geared toward – me.
And what about the savings potential? Maybe I am making a lot of calls to Nigeria, and maybe that is costing me a small fortune. But maybe, if I were to be approached by a firm that specialized in US-to-Africa call plans and that organization could save me a great deal of money, it would be a very good thing. Of course there is also privacy to consider – and I will leave the Patriot Act alone for now – but maybe it isn’t an issue of service providers knowing who I am calling so much as where I am calling. Again, I’m not sure of the right answer, but I think this bears some merit for discussion.
Christopher Combest- Director of Sales and Marketing 1stel