Telemarketers ask for boost in access to cellphones

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Telemarketers are calling on Congress to ease restrictions on their access to cellphones, saying it has become increasingly difficult to reach customers who no longer use traditional land lines as their primary mode of contact.

The “Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011,” under consideration in the House, would update portions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, allowing them to contact only those customers who want to receive these calls on their cellphones in an effort to keep the laws on pace with technology.

Right now, companies cannot use robocalls, or automated dialing systems, unless a customer gives them express permission, and they need to renew that permission every time before they call.

“A lot of what we’re doing is just modernizing,” said Rep. Lee Terry, Nebraska Republican, who is pushing the bill. “It is supposed to be a simple change.”

Opponents see the change as opening the door to abuse by telemarketers.

The bill is designed to continue to thwart solicitation calls while allowing notifications customers ask to receive on their cellphones.

“While I believe these changes in consumer behavior warrant our review of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, I’m concerned about the potential for misuse by modifying the act,” said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, California Democrat and ranking member of the subcommittee. “In fact, my constituents have spoken very clearly - they don’t like this bill.”

Many business groups, however, are onboard with the bill, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, UPS, American Gas Association, Financial Services Roundtable and CTIA-The Wireless Association.

“We believe it helps to illustrate just how profoundly the wireless industry has changed over the last 20 years,” Mike Altschul, CTIA general counsel, said in his testimony to the House. “These changes have been momentous, as wireless has evolved from a niche voice service to the primary source of broadband communications for millions of Americans.”

The Mobile Informational Call Act is a way to keep up with the ever-changing telecommunications world, Mr. Terry said.

Right now, customers have to give express permission each time a company wants to call them. So if they are traveling to New York and ask the airline to notify them if the flight is canceled or delayed, they would have to go through the whole process again the next week when they fly to Chicago.

This bill would make it easier by allowing them to give permanent permission to specific companies and organizations. Doctors’ offices could send patients appointment reminders on their cellphones with autodialers or banks could notify customers when their accounts are overdrawn.

Mr. Terry said he is working with consumer groups to reconcile their differences and does not plan to push the bill any further unless they can come to an agreement.

“We want to make sure we make it very clear so if any company tries to abuse it or makes unwanted calls, they’re still held responsible,” he said.

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