Taking back our telephone lines

March 12, 2002|By Julia Chang

PHILADELPHIA - I would like to say that I remember a time when the sound of a telephone ringing was met only with anticipation. But I am a product of the telemarketing generation, where the ring of a telephone at dinner elicits a mix of emotions - the anticipation of a friend's call is dampened by the dread of dealing with another telemarketer.

Should I screen the call through the answering machine? Or do I pick up and risk feeling annoyed, trapped and guilty for rejecting the fast-talking telemarketer who is just trying to do his job?

Surely, these questions were not deliberated before the pervasiveness of telemarketing calls. Each time we accept these annoying intrusions into our personal space and private time, we silently surrender to a hostile telephone environment created by telemarketing. The telemarketing industry has, in effect, changed the way we relate to the medium of the telephone.

And it seems to me that telemarketing has gotten more intrusive over the years. Caller ID, caller blocking and filtering devices are recent technological remedies to the public's increasing annoyance at telemarketers. But such remedies have been circumvented by the ingenuity and persistence of a multibillion-dollar industry.

What can we do about it? The Federal Trade Commission has an answer to that question in its proposal to create a national "do not call" list and change some key elements of the existing Telemarketing Sales Rule. The proposal allows an individual to place his or her name on the registry simply by calling a toll-free number. Companies would face fines of up to $11,000 for calling individuals listed on the registry.

Voice your support for this proposal if you believe that the public, rather than the telemarketing industry, should determine our relationship with the telephone. The FTC is encouraging public comment on the proposal through March 29.

The reason to support the proposal is obvious - the existing Telemarketing Sales Rule is weak. The way it reads, telemarketers are required to maintain individual "do not call" lists. If you ask a telemarketer to place you on its list, the company is not permitted to call you again. But this requires you to ask each telemarketer individually to place you on its list - the burden is on you.

There are some significant limitations to the proposal. Some organizations would be exempt, such as phone companies, airlines, charities and companies with which you already have an existing relationship. But even with these limitations, the capacity for the FTC to enforce restrictions on telemarketers is far greater than the current level.

As a public, it is required that we respond to this proposal. If we don't speak up for ourselves, who will?

Julia Chang is a master's degree candidate in communications at the University of Pennsylvania. This article first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

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