Telemarketing isn't free speech

As a business, the Nevada Appeal has used telemarketing over the years to sell subscriptions.

We imagine there are few Carson City area residents out there who have not received a phone call at some time from one of our employees, or a company hired by us, trying to talk you into buying the newspaper.

But telemarketing has become a less effective tool simply because it has become more prevalent. People who once were inconvenienced by a sales call once in awhile are now deluged daily with calls.

We're trying to phase out our telemarketing, and for years we have tried to be diligent about maintaining do-not-call lists. The worst thing a business can do is make customers angry by harassing them.

The other reason for phasing out telemarketing calls is the inevitability of laws restricting them. Nevada does not yet have such a law, but it probably will by the end of the next legislative session. Nationally, the Federal Trade Commission is revising its rules to require telemarketers to identify themselves for Caller ID services and setting up a nationwide do-not-call list.

The Direct Marketing Association sees the rules as infringing on free speech. Two points argue against them, however.

Speech that is primarily advertising in nature can legitimately be regulated. From billboards to TV commercials, there is ample precedent for restricting advertising speech on behalf of the public at large.

The second point has to do with technology. Automatic dialing programs and "ring-back" mechanisms, which alert a telemarketing that someone indeed answered so they can call back with their pitch, have turned the telephone lines into an electronic battleground. They have nothing to do with free speech; they're simply annoying.

The telemarketing industry must realize it has brought these regulations on itself. It has made customers -- everybody's customers -- angry by failing to adequately address their complaints. Respect for the privacy of people's homes, which some companies have but far too many don't, would have kept the issue off legislators' agendas.


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