Government promises protection from telemarketers
December 19, 2002
WASHINGTON (AP) — People perturbed by telemarketing calls that disrupt dinner or ruin their rest can silence the ringing by enrolling in a new national “do-not-call’ list intended to cut off many unwanted telephone sales pitches.
The free service, which could be available by spring, is part of revised federal telemarketing rules made public Wednesday. The rules also require telemarketers to transmit identifying information that can be viewed by services such as Caller ID, and limit the number of “abandoned” calls that hang up or leave people listening to dead air on the line.
The changes are welcomed by Lil Frankel, 71, a retired accountant from suburban Chicago who gets close to 30 telemarketing calls a week.
“It’s very annoying,” she said. “You’re like a prisoner in your own house not knowing whether to answer your phone or not.”
The Federal Trade Commission is catching up with at least 27 states, which already have their own do-not-call lists or pending legislation to create one.
The national registry would not stop every call. Only solicitations from certain businesses outside the consumer’s home state would be blocked. Charities are exempted.
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Regulators believe the service will cover most calls. “Help is on the way,” FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said.
A White House statement praised the effort, saying “time with family is a precious commodity, and families should be given the tools they need to help prevent unwanted calls from telemarketers.”
The FTC is seeking bids from companies to set up the registry. Consumers will be able to enroll through the Internet or a toll-free number and will have to renew their registration every five years.
Telemarketers will have to check the list every three months to find out who does not want to be called. Those who call listed people could be fined up to $11,000 for each violation.
Muris said consumers will be able to file complaints by phone or online to an automated system supported by the FTC and the Justice Department.
H. Robert Wientzen, president of the Direct Marketing Association, which represents telemarketers, said the new rules unlawfully restrict free speech. He said the group is considering challenging the FTC in court. He also said the registry endangers the jobs of some of the industry’s 4 million workers.
Wientzen said the industry’s own voluntary do-not-call list is effective and contended it does not harm businesses like the government’s plan would.
John Sturm, president of the Newspaper Association of America, said most newspapers use telemarketing to get new subscribers and the FTC rules will hurt the industry.
There are exceptions to the FTC’s do-not-call protections.
A company may call someone on the list if that person has bought, leased or rented anything from the company within the past 18 months. Telemarketers can call consumers if they have inquired or applied for something from the company during the past three months.
The FTC has limited authority to police certain industries, including airlines, banks and telephone companies. Muris said the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees those industries, is considering adding its authority to the national registry.
Muris noted that even exempt industries must obey the do-not-call list if they use third-party telemarketers.
The registry likely will cost about $16 million in its first year and be paid for with fees collected from telemarketers, Muris said. Collecting the fees requires congressional approval, which is expected after lawmakers return next month, he said.
Muris said most states have said they want to participate in the national program and will add their lists to the FTC registry.
For people who cannot wait for the free government registry, many phone companies offer blocking services for a monthly fee. There also are various devices for sale designed to foil unwanted callers.
The new rules also cover automatic dialing machines employed by telemarketers. The machines predict when a telemarketer will be ready to finish one sales call and automatically places the next.
The system does not always work and calls sometimes are made to people before a telemarketer is available. With these “abandoned” calls, a consumer picks up the phone only to be disconnected or greeted with a long silence before the sales pitch begins.
The rules limit abandoning — calls that hang up or have pauses longer than two seconds — to less than 3 percent of a telemarketer’s business. The FTC also is requiring sellers to play an identifying recording after two seconds if no operator is available.
On the Net:
Federal Trade Commission: http://www.ftc.gov
Federal Communications Commission: http://www.fcc.gov
Direct Marketing Association: http://www.the-dma.org