D.C. Notes: Taking control of our phones

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 10, 2003


Nearly every American has experienced an unwanted telemarketing call at one time or another. For some people, it is the numerous hang-ups and recorded sales pitches left on your message machine.

For others, the phone rings just as you sit down to dinner with your family, or while your son is reciting his very first book report, or while your daughter is blowing out the sixteen candles on her birthday cake, and you rush to answer it only to discover a pushy telemarketer on the other end of the line trying to sell you something.

Special moments like these cannot be relived yet they are far too often interrupted, sometimes three, four, even five times a day by telemarketers.

The time has come to put a stop to this nonsense so that we can all enjoy a little privacy at home for a change. That is why my colleague, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), and I introduced legislation to allow the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to move forward with its plan to create a national do-not-call registry.

This common sense idea that I have long supported will give consumers the opportunity to opt-out of receiving telephone solicitations at home and make it illegal for telemarketers to call those telephone numbers listed on the registry. The House Energy and Commerce Committee that I chair moved quickly to allow the FTC to implement this list.

We worked many hours with the FTC, including receiving a briefing by FTC Chairman Timothy Muris, to craft legislation that will ensure the list’s implementation this year.

We are well on our way to seeing that happen with the approval of H.R. 395, the “Do-Not-Call-Implementation-Act,” which passed the House on February 12 by a vote of 418-to-7 and was unanimously approved by the Senate on February 13.

The bill provides a five-year authorization for the FTC to raise money from telemarketers to operate, maintain, and enforce the national do-not-call registry, which will cost $16 million annually.

As soon as the President signs this legislation, the FTC will begin allowing consumers to enroll free online at http://www.ftc.gov/donotcall or by calling a toll-free number to request their home phone number be added to the registry.

Once in place, telemarketers will have to search the list every 90 days and remove any numbers appearing on the registry from their call lists.

The FTC says consumers can expect fewer calls within three months after placing their number on the list.

A telemarketer who calls a number that has been on the on the do-not-call registry for three months or more could be fined up to $11,000 per call.

Since the FTC has jurisdiction only over the telemarketing industry and cannot capture all telemarketing calls, the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to proceed within 180 days of the bill’s enactment to close any loopholes not already covered by the FTC rule.

This will extend the do-not-call rule to many businesses that are exempt from FTC jurisdiction. Both agencies will be required to report to Congress annually on the effectiveness of the do-not-call registry.

In addition, many states already operate their own do-not-call lists. The FTC will work with those states to harmonize lists to avoid duplication.

It is important to point out that the national do-not-call registry will not stop telemarketers from calling those consumers who want to be called.

In other words, if you want telemarketers to call you, then do not sign up for the registry. Still, people who choose not to take part in the registry will find telemarketing calls much easier to manage once the FTC rule is implemented.

The rule will require telemarketers to identify themselves upfront with their name and organization, including having to reveal their identity to the consumer’s caller ID service.

This will help cut down on fraud and let consumers make the choice whether to answer the phone. Consumers also can rest assured that telemarketers will no longer call during unreasonable hours. Calls will now be limited to the hours between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Your home is your sanctuary, and the privacy it provides should be respected. No longer will phone solicitors be allowed to interrupt our private time at home whenever they choose. The national do-not-call registry will simply put the choice back into the hands of consumers. It’s about time.

BILLY TAUZIN is Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He represents Louisiana’s Third Congressional District.