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Sprint opening lines to automated calls

A company that makes software meant to replace a telephone operator with a computer inks a deal to use the carrier's network to help companies manage calls.

A software company that can send prerecorded phone calls to landline telephones has reached a deal with Sprint announced Tuesday to use the carrier's network.

Interactive Intelligence makes a new type of interactive voice response (IVR) software that is used to replace a telephone operator with a computer. Consumers encounter IVR, for example, when they dial a number and reach a prerecorded voice prompting them to choose an option from a menu.

The software can also be used to send calls. Cable TV provider National Programming Service uses the IVR service to tell customers when a repair worker is due, for example. Utilities also use the calling services to dispatch field workers during emergencies, Interactive Intelligence said.

As for the deal with Sprint, a representative for the carrier said he believed Interactive Intelligence would limit its use of the Sprint network to helping companies manage large amounts of incoming calls. However, the agreement does not preclude Interactive Intelligence from using the network to send calls, the representative said.

The deal will be in effect for "multiple years," according to the companies, and Interactive Intelligence is paying Sprint for the network access. Additional details were not disclosed.

Even telemarketers can use IVR. Though none have signed up yet, said Interactive Intelligence executive Debbie Thornburg, salespeople can use the system to reach homes in a specific area code or zip code.

"We have the technology that drives the initiation of the calls, and now we have the network," she said.

David Butler, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C., office of Consumers Union, said these services have been put to good use in the past. But in the hands of telemarketers, the problem may be in how a consumer gets these automated telemarketing calls to stop, he said.

"At least there was a human on the other end of the line, someone you can ask to take you off a call list," he said. "But, if I understand this technology correctly, if a person doesn't want to receive future calls it's impossible to ask (the caller) to take them off the list."