- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2000

A bill that would prohibit telemarketers from bypassing caller-identification devices passed unanimously yesterday in the House.

The "Know Your Caller Act of 2000," approved by a 420-0 vote, bans telemarketers from interfering with a person's caller-identification service, which usually indicates who is calling and what number they are calling from.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, New Jersey Republican, directs the Federal Communications Commission to create rules to implement the ban and allows legal action to be taken against violators. Telemarketers could be fined up to $500 per violation.

The Senate has not yet considered the bill.

"This is an issue that drives [people] bananas," Mr. Frelinghuysen said. "People pay this monthly fee and they're thwarted from knowing who's making these calls. This bill moves us toward greater consumer protection and privacy."

Nearly half the homes throughout the country use a caller-identification service. Typically, the different devices used show the name and phone number of people or companies calling, as well as the time and date of each call. Some models only show the phone number.

Often when a telemarketer calls consumers, words like "unavailable" or "unknown" appear on their caller-identification boxes.

"Telemarketers know your name, your address and your telephone number," said Mr. Frelinghuysen in a statement. "It's only fair that they share the same information with consumers."

But that might not be so easy.

The technology used in such services and used by telemarketers don't mesh many times, making it impossible for a name or phone number to appear.

"This is not us being malicious," said Kevin Brosnahan, a spokesman for the American Teleservices Association, which represents 1,100 telemarketing companies, including call centers and suppliers. "It's a real technology issue. Caller-ID and call-center technology is not compatible."

While there are telemarketers who actively block their identities, most of them are not blocking it intentionally, Mr. Brosnahan said.

"We think the bill is fine," he said. "It specifically protects the good actors."

"In general, direct marketers absolutely want to have a Caller ID," said Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president for government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association. "They want to be able to adjust that Caller ID to put down the phone number of a customer-service person so when someone wants to call back, they wouldn't get the busy number that's being used for telemarketing."

The DMA supports the basic premise of the bill. However, the trade association has a problem with one part of the bill that reads if a person requests to be put on a "do-not-call" list, then that person cannot be marketed to by any other means, such as through the mail.

"We want to make sure that people who say 'don't call me' mean 'just don't call me,' " Mr. Cerasale said, adding that some people still want marketing material through the mail. "We're hoping to get that ironed out in the legislation before it ever becomes law."

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