WASHINGTON FNB — WASHINGTON -- Riding a wave of popular annoyance over telephone sales calls, Congress approved and sent to President Bush yesterday a bill banning the use of automated dialing devices that deliver pre-recorded messages to the home. The measure would also allow consumers to block calls from human salespeople by placing their names on a "do not call" list.
The bill, which passed on voice votes in the House Monday and in the Senate yesterday, was supported by both Democrats and Republicans, some of whom have recounted their own aggravations with unsolicited sales calls.
The White House has expressed concerns about what it views as unnecessary regulation, but the president has not threatened a veto.
The measure, which combines provisions from several separate
measures passed previously by both chambers of Congress, bans the use of autodialers for calling most individual homes. The few exceptions would be when a person has explicitly agreed to receive such a call or when the autodialer is being used to notify people of an emergency.
When autodialers are used to call businesses, they would be prohibitedfrom reaching more than two numbers at a single business.
Many states have already passed laws that restrict autodialers, including about a dozen states that ban them altogether and about two dozen others that restrict their use in various ways. The state laws, however, do not stop a company from using an autodialer in an unregulated state to call homes in state with regulations.
In an attempt to curb telemarketing by human sales representatives, the measure would instruct the Federal Communications Commission to either oversee the creation of a nationwide "do not call" list or issue rules ordering companies to maintain their own lists.
The bill would allow people who placed their names on such a list to file suits is small claims courts against companies that persisted in calling. The suits could seek up to $500 for each unwanted call, up to a maximum of three calls from a single company.
Finally, the bill would ban unsolicited "junk fax" messages, which are advertisements transmitted to facsimile machines.
Companies that make or use autodialers glumly predicted yesterday that the measure would put them out of business and would hurt small advertisers the most.