Do-not-call seems to work

Poll: A survey of those signed up for the registry finds most report fewer calls by telemarketers.

February 19, 2004|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Do-not-call appears to be doing its job.

A recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive found that 92 percent of people who signed up for the national registry to curb telemarketing calls reported receiving fewer calls. In fact, 25 percent of respondents reported getting no telemarketer calls since the do-not-call list took effect in October.

The Federal Communications Commission also said yesterday that the number of complaints from consumers has dropped each month since the agency's enforcement of the list began in the fall. Last month, the FCC received 1,256 complaints, compared with 4,341 in October.

The FCC released its results a day after a federal appeals court in Denver upheld the constitutionality of the list. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed claims by telemarketers that the restriction violated protections on free speech. The court consolidated the appeal of a ruling by U.S. District Judge Edward W. Nottingham of Denver with two other challenges.

"People I've talked to say the calls have dropped off significantly," said Cheryl Hystad, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition. "Some people aren't getting them at all, while other people tell me they occasionally get a few."

"We think it's working real well," FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball said. "It's not perfect, but we see the number of complaints tapering off each month."

The issue was extremely contentious a year ago as federal and state lawmakers reacted to a flood of consumer complaints about dinner-time interruptions from sales calls. Telemarketers, in response, proposed policing themselves and warned that a government ban would cost jobs in a growing industry.

But after surmounting court challenges, the Federal Trade Commission launched a registry that, except in certain cases, disallows companies from calling the phone numbers on it.

About 57.2 million telephone numbers are posted on the do-not-call list. Another 200,000 to 300,000 are added each week. A telephone marketer can be fined $11,000 each time it calls a number on the list.

The telemarketing industry has challenged the legality of the list, charging that it unfairly exempts political and charitable phone solicitations. The American Teleservices Association of Indianapolis is considering appealing this week's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Direct Marketing Association, a Washington telemarketing trade group, is also considering its next legal step, said Ronald Plesser, a partner with Piper Rudnick in Washington, who has represented the association. Plesser said his clients want to abide with consumer wishes, but believe there are several constitutional questions at stake. For instance, Internet sign-up potentially allows people to put other people's phone numbers on the registry without their knowledge.

Industry experts predict that more than one-third of the country's 6.5 million telemarketers - roughly 2 million people - could lose their jobs within two years if the ruling stands.

"It's obviously slowed down the number of calls, but the industry is still working," Plesser said. Most companies seem to be complying with the list. The FCC said it has received 10,000 complaints since October and issued eight citations. Most of the citations went to mortgage or finance companies as warnings to comply with the law or risk paying a fine.

The FTC, which is enforcing the list with the FCC, said it received 150,409 complaints in the last three months of 2003. Of those, 55,000 were complaints against specific companies. Although 45 companies generated more than 100 complaints each, the FTC has not taken action against any telemarketer.

"This shows there's a high level of compliance," said Edward K. Kabak, director of legal affairs for the New York-based Promotion Marketing Association. "The people not complying are probably fly-by-night companies. The fines for not complying are pretty substantial."

Maryland is one of about a dozen states that do not have their own do-not-call lists. Legislation pending in the General Assembly, submitted by state Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, would give the attorney general the authority to enforce the national registry. It would also give individual consumers the right to sue companies who call them.

Contact information

People can register numbers or file complaints with www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222.

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