Telemarketing: 'Do not call' proposal sparks response

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The federal trade commission's proposal for its own national "do-not-call" registry may be earning the ire of telemarketers, but it is tapping a vein of public resentment over telephone marketing.

With comments still being accepted, the proposed rule has generated more than 28,000 public comments-more than all other rules but one in the FTC's history. A 1993 rule that would have classified smokeless-tobacco signage on stock cars as advertising and required health warnings be placed on the cars generated 64,000 replies, but that was after smokeless-tobacco companies gave out FTC-addressed postcards at races.

This time, telemarketers worried about their livelihoods have mounted an organized effort from employees worried about their jobs. But many of the public comments pouring in through handwritten and typewritten letters and e-mails praise the do-not-call list that was proposed by FTC chairman Tim Muris in January.

"Our phone rings constantly. None of [the telemarketers] take `no' or `stop calling' seriously," said one e-mail from a person identified only as "Bluebear8510."

`invasion'

Marylanders Stephen and Betty Light said they find "the constant barrage of telemarketing calls to our home, four or five times in one day, a serious invasion of our privacy." More upset was Walter Lee Bird of California. "The intrusion telemarketers perpetrate on the American public is disgraceful. ... Outcries of a violation of free speech should be buried in an avalanche, downpour and hellfire of plain old common sense! I propose a national hunting season on door-to-door sales people and telemarketers."

The FTC will accept comments through April 15 and is planning a public forum for June 5 to 7 to review the comments

While the Direct Marketing Association has its own do-not-call registry, as do several states, the FTC's registry would be much easier to join and would cut off a much broader spectrum of telemarketing calls. The FTC has proposed a registry that consumers could sign up for with a small fee that would bar telemarketer calls.

effect on the economy

The American Teleservices Association, an industry group representing some call-center companies, has urged its members to send in comments warning about the potential effect of the rule on the economy and on their jobs. The group hasn't yet submitted its own comments.

The Direct Marketing Association also hasn't yet submitted comments, but Lou Mastria, director of public and international affairs, said one reason for the large number of comments is that some consumers see the proposal as ending telemarketing calls when it won't. "[The FTC] cannot deliver what they promised because 50% to 60% [of calling marketers] are outside of the FTC's bailiwick."

Mr. Mastria also said there are First Amendment questions on whether the FTC's proposal is so broad it could block legal communications. "We believe that the FTC and consumers would be better served to prosecute illegitimate telemarketing firms."

While many comments come from consumers, others come from the telemarketing industry and warn that the proposal could hurt nonprofits and hurt marketers who produce 6% of the gross domestic product.

James Axline, president of the National Association for the Terminally Ill, questioned whether his group's calls placed by a telemarketer fundraiser might be disallowed, while calls from other similar groups that do their own calling and from politicians would be allowed.

"Why is a call that is made on behalf of our organization to our loyal supporters and invasion of privacy, when a call from a politician is not?" he wrote. "This is neither fair nor rational."

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