- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The public’s simmering frustration with telemarketers erupted yesterday as people hurried to sign up for a new national do-not-call list, registering about 635,000 telephone numbers in the program’s first 14 hours.

Registration opened just after midnight. By noon the program’s Web site was being visited 1,000 times every second, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which operates the registry.

“Unwanted telemarketing calls are intrusive, they are annoying, and they’re all too common,” said President Bush, who formally started the list at a White House ceremony. “We’re taking practical action to address this problem.”

Consumers can register their home or cell phone numbers with the free government service by visiting the Web site www.donotcall.gov. Telephone registration using a toll-free number — 1-888-382-1222 — is available in states west of the Mississippi River, including Minnesota and Louisiana. The phone number will operate nationwide by July 7, the FTC said.

Slightly more than half of the numbers registered by late yesterday were done by phone, the FTC said.

The Web site was responding slowly on the first day because of “extraordinary amounts of traffic,” the FTC said. The commission was scrambling to add more computer equipment to handle the load.

“Consumers do not need to sign up today,” the agency said in a statement.

People who sign up during the summer should see a decrease in telemarketing calls after the FTC begins enforcing the list Oct. 1. The service will block about 80 percent of the calls, the FTC said.

On the Web site, consumers provide the numbers they want protected and an e-mail address to receive a confirmation message. The site also lets them verify that a number is registered or remove a number.

Consumers calling the toll-free number must call from the telephone number they want registered.

Telephone registration is being done in stages to ensure the system can handle the volume of calls, the FTC said. The commission expects as many as 60 million phone numbers to be registered in the first year.

Registrations will have to be renewed every five years.

One problem with the program’s start happened when several radio and TV stations in Illinois reported the phone number of the FTC’s public affairs office as the do-not-call number, flooding the agency with unexpected calls and forcing them to add phone lines, the FTC said. News outlets in the state were asked to make a correction.

Telemarketers attempt as many as 104 million calls every day, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The industry has said the registry will devastate their business and has sued the FTC, saying the program amounts to an unlawful restriction on free speech.

The FCC voted 5-0 Thursday to add its authority to the do-not-call list, blocking telemarketing calls from within a state — the FTC could only police interstate calls — and from industries whose calls the agency regulates, including airlines, banks and telephone companies.

Of the states with do-not-call lists, 13 plan to add their lists of 8.1 million numbers to the national registry during the summer, three have legislation pending to allow them to share and 11 will not share the information, the FTC said. Consumers on state lists added to the national one need not register again.

Beginning in September, telemarketers will have to check the list every three months to learn who doesn’t want to be called. Those who call listed people could be fined $11,000 for each violation. Consumers would file complaints to an automated phone or online system.

Exemptions from the list include calls from charities and pollsters, and on behalf of politicians. Registered consumers can also give written permission to receive calls from certain companies.

A company may also call someone on the no-call list if that person has bought, leased or rented from the company within the past 18 months. Telemarketers may also call people if they have inquired about or applied for something from the company during the past three months.

But consumers can avoid those calls by asking to be put on an individual company’s do-not-call list.

Congress authorized the FTC to collect as much as $18.1 million from telemarketers to pay the program’s expenses in the first year.

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