John Oliver Rips HBO Parent AT&T Amid Lengthy Rant About FCC and Robocalls

John Oliver-Publicity Still 3-H 2018
Eric Liebowitz/HBO

John Oliver took a swipe at HBO's new parent company AT&T on Sunday's Last Week Tonight during his show's main segment, which saw him decry the increasing amount of robocalls being made in the U.S. and the FCC's unwillingness or inability to do anything about them.

"Everybody is annoyed by robocalls; hatred of them might be the only thing everyone in America agrees on now," he said.

He cited statistics that said the number of calls increased by 57 percent last year to nearly 50 billion in total. He also showed a news clip noting that robocalls are the No. 1 complaint to the FCC every year, totaling more than 500,000 a year, about 60 percent of all complaints received by the FCC.

"They are definitely aware of the problem," Oliver said, noting that while some are useful, such as automated calls about school closings or reminders about prescriptions, "the vast majority vary from irritating to outright illegal." Among the top robocallers each year are companies including Capital One, Comcast and Wells Fargo, who use the technology to "chase debts."

Noting that it is estimated that nearly half of all mobile calls will be robocalls next year, Oliver said: "This is a real problem for consumers because we have to use our phone. We can't go back to the days when everyone would just shout their message into a jar and then mail that jar across the country. That was a terrible system, as it was only marginally more accurate than having AT&T now."

He then appeared to taunt his new corporate overlords, adding with a little dance: "Oh you like that business, daddy? Johnny's acting up again, Johnny's acting up. I bet I'm going to get some spicy jars in the mail about that."

He took yet another jab later, noting that the only way to get telcom companies to take action against robocallers is to "force them" to listen to the complaints: "And AT&T isn't going to listen to you at all, unless you call them on T-Mobile — how would they hear you otherwise? Their call would drop out. That's right, business daddy. Oh that's right. You've inherited a problem child. Let's dance. Let's dance, you and I."

It's not the first time he has criticized HBO's new owner. In November, he took AT&T to task over its support of Iowa Rep. Steve King — who publicly declared his support for Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy, who has been labeled a white nationalist, and met with leaders of the Austria Freedom Party, which has been linked to Nazis and whose founder was reportedly in the SS — and the company's delay in announcing its employee PAC would no longer be donating to King.

Moving on to the FCC, Oliver attacked the commissioners for failing to do more to eradicate the spam calls.

"If only there were a way to get the FCC's attention," Oliver said. "One way to do that would be if someone had, I don't know, say, the office numbers of all five FCC commissioners. Because then you could, hypothetically, have a program to robocall all of those numbers every 90 minutes with a message, say, oh, I don't know. Like, this."

He then played a recorded message that said, in his own voice: "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 said that robocalling is so easy, the show's tech guy figured out how to do it in just 15 minutes. He then pushed a big red button that he said would "unleash hell" on the commissioners.