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Telemarketing Group Urges Members To Abide By Do-Not-Call List

Sep 26, 2003 (04:09 AM EDT)

Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=15200479


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The largest telemarketing industry group says it wants its members to abide by the national "do-not-call" list next week despite two court rulings that have thrown the program's future into legal limbo.

"We are telling our members, yes indeed, we don't want you calling people who have told anyone they don't want any calls," Direct Marketing Association President H. Robert Wientzen said Friday. He said he hasn't had time to arrange agreements making that request binding, but "up to the moment I have had nobody disagree."

The list of nearly 51 million phone numbers is scheduled to go into effect Wednesday, but rulings by two federal courts have made that plan unlikely.

U.S. District Judge Edward W. Nottingham in Denver issued a ruling late Thursday saying the list violates telemarketers' free speech rights.

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy Muris said Friday the agency will fight the decision.

"I do not believe that our Constitution dictates such an illogical result," Muris said. "To the contrary, our Constitution allows consumers to choose not to receive commercial telemarketing calls."

Muris said that if Nottingham's reasoning were applied elsewhere, it would cripple the more than two dozen state do-not-call lists.

The FTC is still allowing people to sign up for the list at the Web site www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222.

However, the latest court ruling means the agency can't penalize telemarketers for violating the registry, said Walter Janowski, a director with research firm Gartner Inc.

"This likely precludes a quick fix such as Congress' attempt yesterday," he said. "We can expect multiple appeals potentially as high as the Supreme Court."

Janowski said the voluntary efforts of some telemarketers to obey the list will have mixed results for consumers. "Legitimate telemarketers will listen. It's the ones that are less legitimate or somewhat sleazy that are the ones we have the problems with to begin with," he said.

Many telemarketers already have obtained the do-not-call list to compare with their own calling lists.

Wientzen said that despite telling members to obey the wishes of people who don't want to be called, the telemarketing industry still opposes the do-not-call list.

"We don't think this is an appropriate role for government," Wientzen said in a telephone interview. "These cases are simply making that point."

Nottingham's ruling capped a frantic day in which Congress moved with nearly unprecedented speed and unanimity in an attempt to counter an earlier court ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Lee R. West in Oklahoma City. West's ruling on Tuesday said the FTC lacked the power to create and operate the registry.

The House voted 412-8 and the Senate 95-0 for the bill. President Bush said he looked forward to signing it Monday. "Unwanted telemarketing calls are intrusive, annoying and all too common," he said in a statement.

Even after Bush signs the legislation, the FTC must win in court for the list to move forward.

Nottingham's ruling said the do-not-call list was unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it does not apply equally to all kinds of speech, blocking commercial telemarketing calls but not calls from charities.

West rejected an FTC request to delay his order, saying the agency offered no additional evidence that would make him change his mind. The FTC immediately appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Lawmakers responded with remarkable speed to West's order. Bills can take months or even years to pass, but this bill was drafted and approved in both chambers in little more than 24 hours.

Since issuing the ruling, West's home and office have been bombarded with calls from angry consumers. His numbers were posted on the Internet and people were encouraged to call. Nottingham's phone numbers are online as well.

The case decided by West was brought by a coalition of telemarketers, including the Direct Marketing Association, an industry group.

The suit in Nottingham's court was filed by two telemarketing companies and the American Teleservices Association, which represents call centers.

The national registry is intended to block an estimated 80 percent of telemarketing calls

The FTC's rules require telemarketers to check the list every three months to see who does not want to be called. Those who call listed people could be fined up to $11,000 for each violation. Consumers would file complaints to an automated phone or online system.

Exemptions to the list include calls from charities, pollsters and on behalf of politicians.