- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

Consumers could field fewer calls from telemarketers within seven months if Congress gives speedy approval of new rules the Federal Trade Commission introduced yesterday.
"We are pleased to tell consumers that help is on the way," FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said.
Commissioners unanimously approved changes in rules regulating telemarketers. The most consumer-friendly change will be creation of a nationwide "do-not-call" list. Consumers will be able to place telephone numbers both land lines into the home and wireless phone numbers on the list free of charge to prevent calls from some telemarketers.
Mr. Muris said the changes have wide support in Congress, but telemarketers are likely to appeal the new rules.
Consumers won't be able to sign up to be on the do-not-call list at least until May, Mr. Muris predicted. The FTC will set up a toll-free number people can call to be placed on the list. They will also be able to sign up online. A Web page www.ftc.gov/donotcall will provide consumers information about the changes in the meantime.
Privacy groups hailed the changes.
"Consumers made a big step forward today toward taking control of telemarketing calls," said Chris Hoofnagle, legislative counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Groups representing telemarketers said the rules are unnecessary and could do massive harm to the industry, which sells an estimated $296 billion in goods and services to consumers annually. The Direct Marketing Association and the American Teleservices Association are threatening a legal challenge.
"At this point in time, we are leaning toward taking legal action," said Tom Rocca, chairman of the ATA and senior vice president of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based telemarketer Interactive Response Technologies Inc.
Mr. Rocca said the ATA is raising money to wage a legal fight.
The FTC's $16 million initiative will be funded by fees on telemarketers, who will have to pay for access to names on the list. The fees haven't been established. Telemarketers will have to revise their lists every three months to remove names of consumers who have placed their phone numbers on the do-not-call list in the interim. The FTC will fine telemarketers up to $11,000 each time they call consumers on the list.
The FTC must get approval from Congress before it levies fees on telemarketers.
An estimated 80 percent of the hundreds of millions of telemarketing calls could be filtered out if the Federal Communications Commission adopts similar telemarketing rules changes next year, Mr. Muris said.
The list won't filter all telemarketing calls.
Telemarketers calling to solicit charitable contributions won't have to comply with the do-not-call list, even though the USA Patriot Act of 2001 gives the FTC authority to regulate for-profit companies making solicitations on behalf of charities.
"If there is evidence that suggests that this approach is not effective in protecting consumers … the commission should revisit this decision and require for-profit telemarketers seeking charitable donations to comply with the national do-not-call registry," FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle wrote in a concurring statement on the agency's decision.
Companies that have established a business relationship with a consumer would be able to continue making telephone solicitations. The FTC said a "business relationship" exists when a consumer has purchased, leased or rented products or services from a company over the past 18 months.
Political solicitations also will be allowed under the new rules.
Banks, telephone companies and insurance firms also are exempt because the FTC doesn't regulate those industries. Nor can the FTC stop calls within a state. It can only regulate calls from one state to a consumer in another state.
The FTC also will impose restrictions on the use of devices called predictive dialers. The devices dial phone numbers, store them in a database and predict when a telemarketer will finish one call and be ready to begin another pitch. When a predictive dialer reaches a consumer, the device is supposed to transfer the call to a telemarketer.
Under the new rules, the FTC will try to limit call abandonment calls that hang up or have pauses of at least two seconds by demanding that no more than 3 percent of a telemarketing company's calls are abandoned. If pauses last more than two seconds, telemarketers must play a recorded message stating the name and number of the seller.
The FTC also said yesterday that telemarketers must ensure their phone numbers appear on the caller-ID devices of consumers within 12 months.

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