Consumers to get help avoiding telemarketersgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
December 18, 2002
By William Glanz
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Federal Trade Commission is expected to announce new rules today to make it easier for consumers to ward off calls from telemarketers.
The FTC will propose creating a nationwide do-not-call list that puts consumers off-limits to telemarketers, industry sources said.
Under the rule change, the FTC would fine telemarketers $11,000 each time they call someone on the do-not-call list.
Privacy advocates say millions of consumers are likely to place their names on a nationwide do-not-call list because a single call to the FTC would shield them from unsolicited marketing calls.
Telemarketers say the regulatory changes could harm the $661 billion-a-year industry, and they are bracing for the worst. A list could drastically reduce the number of people that telemarketers can call and could result in fewer sales, people in the industry say.
"It's extremely scary. The more people on that list, the more it will affect jobs and revenue," said Tom Rocca, chairman of the American Teleservices Association, a group of 2,200 telemarketers, and senior vice president of telemarketer Interactive Response Technologies Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The telemarketing industry employs an estimated 5.6 million people. Many are single mothers and minorities, Andrew Jacobs, president of Ohio telemarketer Interactive Teleservices Corp., wrote in comments to the FTC in June.
Telemarketers make as many as 650 million calls daily to U.S. consumers, according to Private Citizen Inc., an Illinois company that helps consumers remove their names from telemarketers' lists.
The FTC and the Federal Communications Commission both regulate telemarketers. In addition, 27 states have legislation regulating telemarketing practices within their borders.
But complaints about the volume of calls and difficulties getting removed from telemarketers' calling lists prompted the FTC and FCC to re-evaluate their rules. The FTC began its examination in January, and sources said it began briefing congressional staffers yesterday on proposed changes.
The FCC could strengthen the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act, perhaps initiating its own do-not-call list. But no immediate changes are expected.
"Telemarketers know changes are coming, and they are fighting for their lives," said Robert Bulmash, president and founder of Private Citizen.
A do-not-call list could reduce the number of telephone solicitations by as much as 60 percent, he said. But the list, which may not take effect for months, wouldn't let consumers screen all calls.
The new rules would not change the telemarketing practices of insurance companies and telecommunications firms, which are not regulated by the FTC. And because the FTC doesn't regulate intrastate calls, the rules would not cover telemarketing calls to consumers in a state that are made from that same state.
"There will be substantial loopholes," Mr. Bulmash said. "They will make changes to get around the new rules."
Despite their reputation as invaders of privacy, telemarketers argue that many consumers want to be called. Last year, 185 million sales to consumers generated $296 billion in revenue, according to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). Sales to businesses generated even greater revenue.
"We're afraid this won't give consumers any access to products that are out there, and there are lots of great products out there that they may not hear about any other way," Mr. Rocca said.
The telemarketing industry says an FTC-mandated do-not-call list is unnecessary because the industry has developed its own list of people whose phone numbers are off-limits. The DMA began a do-not-call list in 1985 that includes 7.5 million phone numbers.
But the industry's do-not-call list includes only DMA members. Not all telemarketing companies or firms that sell services through telemarketers are members of the industry group, and there is no penalty if a telemarketer calls a person on the list.
The DMA also argues that a do-not-call list would violate commercial free speech.
"Whatever the consumer benefits to the [do-not-call list] may be, they are insufficient to balance the substantial cost of restricting firms' protected speech under the First Amendment," DMA President and Chief Executive Robert Wientzen wrote June 28 in comments to the FTC.
-- Anonymous, December 18, 2002