Growing do-not-call tally disquiets telemarketers

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An estimated 20% to 30% of the nation's 109 million households so far have slammed the phone on telemarketers, enough to rattle but not doom the industry.

The Federal Trade Commission reported 48.4 million phone numbers were placed on the government's do-not-call list as of the end of August. That puts the registry on track to reach FTC predictions of 60 million phone numbers by Oct. 1, according to a number of industry experts. For those signing up before the end of August, blockage begins Oct. 1; for others it begins three months from the sign-up date.

The FTC did not offer guidance on whether the numbers were business, residential number or cellphone numbers. But 37.4 million of the sign-ups came via the Internet, an indication that those with computers at the office or in the home, and possibly those in a higher income demographic, were opting out of telemarketing calls.

"It's huge but it's going to get bigger because so many will have heard about it [from early adapters] and will want" to sign up, said Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications-industry analyst. Mr. Kagan pegged the initial sign-up at roughly 20% to 30% of households.

Kate Griffin, senior analyst with the Yankee Group's consumer technology and services practice, said the sign-up rate reflects "an overall consumer push-back from an onslaught of calling." She categorized the households that did not sign up into two groups: A small segment open to telemarketing calls, and an "inertia base" of those too busy to sign up or laboring under the misunderstanding that someone else in the household did it. Soon, that base will also be on the list, she said.

Mr. Kagan and others believe that's actually good news for telemarketers. "They're crying for no reason," he said, noting that telemarketers will become more efficient by not wasting money and time on individuals not receptive to a sales pitch. "Telemarketing will still remain a very important sales channel-it's not going away," he said. Indeed, the rules allow telemarketers to continue calling those with whom they have a pre-existing business relationship or permission to make calls. Charities and political groups also do not have to abide by the restrictions.

Yankee Group's Ms. Griffin also said the move doesn't mean the end of telemarketing. "Telemarketers are an innovative bunch," she said. "I'm sure they'll find other avenues."

The opinions jibe with that of the Federal Trade Commission's David Torok, program manager for the national registry. "I don't understand how [telemarketers] will make a sale to a person who slams down the phone."

But Tim Searcy, executive director of the American Teleservices Association, called the reasoning "a wonderful political argument which makes sense on paper but not in practice." He said a study found that individuals on state do-not-call lists had actually made telemarketing purchases at the same rate as those who were on the call lists.

lost goods and services

Overall, he expects that when 60 million numbers are on the registry, 2 million of the telemarketing industry's 6.5 million employees, and $166 billion of $646 billion in goods and services sold will be lost. The cuts particularly will hurt sales of credit cards, magazines, newspapers and time shares, he said.

Jerry Cerasale, senior VP-government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association, said those hurt most from the list will be small businesses. But all marketers, he said, will be losing one of their most effective tools, since the telephone has "the most cost-effective response rate," better even than e-mail, which also is being scrutinized as concerns over spam rise.

Both the DMA and the ATA have filed suits challenging the new rules.

contributing: hoag levins

Fast Facts

(in millions)

Total wired and wireless phone lines: 329.31

U.S. households with wired phone lines: 104.0

Phone numbers signed up for Do Not Call list: 48.42

Estimated U.S. households on Do Not Call list: 20-30

1. Includes business phones

2.Consumers may register multiple phone numbers

Source: Federal Communications Commission (data); Jeff Kagan (estimated do-not-call households)

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