Sign-up for nationwide no-call list starts today

Friday, June 27, 2003

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Promising the gift of silence for people bedeviled by telemarketers, the government will launch a national do-not-call list today intended to block phone sales pitches from nearly all sources.

The national registry, a project of the Federal Trade Commission more than a year in the making, will be inaugurated at a White House ceremony led by President Bush, the FTC said Thursday. The commission estimates the list will block about 80 percent of telemarketing calls.

Consumers may sign up for the registry on a Web site by providing the phone number they want protected and an e-mail address so they can receive a confirmation message, the FTC said. The only identifying information kept will be the phone number.

Telephone registration using a toll-free number will begin at the same time in states west of the Mississippi River, including Minnesota and Louisiana. Nationwide registration should be available about 10 days later. Consumers will have to call from the home or cell phone they want to register.

The registry was welcomed by Nicole Haslinger, 32, of Aliso Viejo, Calif. She said she gets up to five calls each week from telemarketers pitching everything from refinanced mortgages to pizza, calls that sometimes wake her 15-month-old son.

'It was crazy'

"Calls at home have gotten totally out of control," she said. "When I first became a stay-home mom it was crazy. I was constantly being interrupted."

Haslinger and others who plan to sign up this summer should see a decrease in telemarketing calls after the FTC begins enforcing the do-not-call list in October. People would have to renew their registration every five years.

Telemarketers attempt up to 104 million calls to consumers and businesses every day, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC voted 5-0 Thursday to add its authority to the do-not-call list and to plug holes in its protections. The registry will now also block telemarketers from industries whose calls the FCC regulates, including airlines, banks and telephone companies.

The FCC action also covers faxes and calls made from within a state -- the FTC could only police interstate calls.

"Consumers want more control over their telephones," said FCC chairman Michael Powell. "Today we give it to them."

Beginning in September, telemarketers will have to check the list every three months to determine who does not want to be called. Those who call listed people could be fined up to $11,000 for each violation. Consumers would file complaints by submitting the company's name and phone number to an automated system by phone or online.

The FTC expects people to register up to 60 million phone numbers in the first year. There are about 166 million residential phone numbers in the United States, the FTC said.

Of the states with do-not-call lists, 13 plan to add their lists of 8.1 million numbers to the national registry, three have legislation pending to allow them to share and 11 will not share the information, the FTC said. Consumers on state lists added to the national one do not need to register again.

The FCC said the national list supersedes less restrictive state lists, but states can still enact harsher laws governing telemarketing.

While the national list is intended to block most telemarketing calls, there are limits.

Charities, surveys and calls on behalf of politicians are exempt. Consumers on the list also can give written permission to get calls from certain companies.

A company also may call someone on the no-call list if that person has bought, leased or rented from the company within the past 18 months. Telemarketers also may call people if they have inquired about or applied for something from the company during the past three months.

Consumers can avoid those calls by asking to be put on an individual company's do-not-call list.

Congress authorized the FTC to collect up to $18.1 million from telemarketers to pay the program's expenses in the first year.

The telemarketing industry has said the registry will devastate their business and have sued the FTC, saying the program amounts to an unlawful restriction on free speech.

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