- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

The federal agency in charge of the national “do-not-call” registry will reopen it today so consumers can add numbers to the list.

More than 52 million people have placed phone numbers on the do-not-call list, but the Federal Trade Commission shut down telephone and Internet registration after a circuit court judge said Sept. 29 that the agency could not share the list of phone numbers with the Federal Communications Commission or distribute it to telemarketers.

But a ruling Tuesday by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver allows the FTC to enforce the popular do-not-call list while it appeals a district court ruling that the registry is unconstitutional because it violates the free-speech rights of commercial telemarketers.

“With the 10th Circuit’s decision of last night, we can proceed on all cylinders,” FTC Commissioner Timothy Muris said yesterday.

Consumers can add their phone numbers to the list by logging onto the FTC’s www.donotcall.gov Web site or calling 888/382-1222.

Telemarketers will have access to the list beginning tomorrow.

About 6,000 telemarketers have purchased the full or partial list of phone numbers they are prohibited from calling. About 13,000 telemarketers have indicated they want the registry.

Telemarketers who already have the do-not-call registry are prohibited from dialing the listed phone numbers. Those who purchase it tomorrow must stop calling numbers on it by Oct. 17, Mr. Muris said.

The FTC will begin a new consumer-complaint process Saturday at 6 p.m. Mr. Muris said consumers who call to complain should provide the phone number that was called, the name of the company that phoned them, the number the telemarketer called from and the date the telemarketer called.

People who didn’t add their phone numbers to the do-not-call list before Sept. 1 probably won’t notice a decline in unsolicited telemarketing calls for another three months.

But the national registry has led to a substantial decline in the number of unsolicited telemarketing calls, despite the legal uncertainty surrounding the list the past two weeks and the FCC’s limited ability to enforce the do-not-call list while the FTC could not.

“I think the effect of threatened enforcement, the strong stance of the federal government, Congress, the president of the United States, it has weight and I think we’re seeing greater compliance as a result of that,” FCC Commissioner Michael Powell said.

President Bush, the Supreme Court, Congress, one circuit court of appeals and two district judges have weighed in on the list’s legality since Sept. 25.

Even while people can file complaints with either the FTC or FCC, the FTC will take the lead in enforcement of the do-not-call list.

“I assure you that for the FTC this is our top enforcement priority,” Mr. Muris said.

In the days since the list took effect Oct. 1, the FCC received about 2,379 complaints from consumers. Consumers lodged 242 to 592 complaints each weekday since Oct. 1, when the registry took effect, according to data from the FCC.

As a result, the FCC has sent 19 letters of inquiry to telemarketers about whom consumers complained, Mr. Powell said. He declined to divulge more about the agency’s investigations.

While Tuesday’s judicial ruling allowing the FTC to enforce the do-not-call list is significant, the legal fight over the registry hasn’t ended. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will hold oral arguments on the registry’s constitutionality Nov. 10.

“While we are not completely out of the woods — we still have to win the case on the merits — I am becoming increasingly confident that we will. I just refuse to believe that the Constitution of the United States shuts down consumers’ ability to protect the sanctity of their homes,” Mr. Powell said.

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