The cherished dinner hour void of telemarketers is scheduled to vanish next year for millions of people when phone numbers begin dropping off the national Do Not Call list.
The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees the list, says there is a simple fix: reregister. But some lawmakers think it is a hassle to expect people to reregister their phone numbers every five years.
Numbers placed on the registry, begun in June 2003, are valid for five years. For the millions of people who signed onto the list in its early days, their numbers will drop off beginning in June if they do not enroll again.
“It is incredibly quick and easy to do,” said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It was so easy for people to sign up in the first instance. It will be just as easy for them to re-up.”
But Rep. Mike Doyle, Pennsylvania Democrat, says people should not be forced to reregister to keep telemarketers at bay. Mr. Doyle introduced legislation this week, with bipartisan support, to make registrations permanent.
“When someone takes the time and effort to say, ‘I don’t want these kinds of calls coming into my house,’ they shouldn’t have to keep a calendar to find out when they have to re-up to keep this nuisance from happening,” he said.
The FTC built the five-year expiration date into the program to account for changes, such as people who move and switch their phone number.
“Just like a regular person who needs to clean out their address book every so often, the commission felt that was something that was important to do with the registry,” Ms. Parnes said.
Mr. Doyle, however, points out that the list is purged each month of numbers that have been disconnected and reassigned to new customers. He called the FTC’s position on the need for an expiration date “completely bogus.”
People can register their home and cell-phone numbers or file complaints at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888/382-1222.
The registry prohibits telemarketers from calling phone numbers on the list. Companies face fines of up to $11,000 for each violation.
Organizations engaged in charitable, political or survey work are exempt. Companies that have an established business relationship with a customer also may call for up to 18 months after the last purchase, payment or delivery.
In the first week of the program, people signed up 18 million numbers. The registry now has more than 149 million phone numbers.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Bonnie Darling of Arlington. She placed her name on the list this year after being flooded with calls from roofing companies, chimney sweeps and construction businesses. She has not heard from those companies in months.
She is not worried about the five-year expiration. She said she expects it to be just as easy to reregister as it was a couple months ago.
But Eileen Feldman of Needham, Mass., says the expiration date is “ridiculous.”
“If you wanted to keep your numbers on there for a lifetime, you should have that option,” said Ms. Feldman, who placed her phone number on the registry when the program began. “There’s no reason I should need to remember to register every five years.”
The FTC plans a consumer-education program in the spring on the reregistration process.
While polls have shown consumers reporting far fewer unwanted phone calls, some telemarketers continue to violate the law.
Since the registry began, the government has filed cases against more than 30 companies, resulting in $8.8 million in civil penalties and $8.6 million in redress to consumers and forfeitures.
Most of the penalties, $5.3 million, were paid by satellite-television provider DirecTV Inc. in December 2005, as part of the largest settlement in the program’s history.
Telemarketers are required to pay an annual subscription fee to access the FTC list so those numbers can be blocked from their dial-out programs. The companies also must update their own calling lists every 31 days to ensure there are no numbers from the registry on them.