FCC Enforces ‘Do-Not-Call’ List

WASHINGTON, D.C. The Federal Communica-
tions Commission said it intends to enforce the national “Do-Not-Call” list so that consumers can block many unwanted telemarketing sales pitches.

The list, which now contains more than 50 million numbers, is scheduled to go into effect today. “What you’ve got is virtually everyone in federal government here working to leave no avenue unexhausted to make sure the list works as fully as legally possible,” said FCC chairman Michael Powell on Monday.

A federal judge in Denver last week issued a ruling blocking the Federal Trade Commission’s list as a violation of marketers’ free speech. In the wake of that ruling, Powell said the FCC will enforce the rules. Late on Monday, U.S. District Judge Edward W. Nottingham in Denver warned that the FTC could face more legal action for using the FCC “to skirt the order.”

Nottingham has denied an FTC request to suspend his decision while the agency appeals. In his ruling, he said he clearly prohibited the FTC from operating the registry and the law prevents any indirect actions to get around that. Telemarketers say the list would devastate their industry and lead to the loss of thousands of jobs.

The Direct Marketing Association, one of the groups that challenged the registry, said it asked its members to obey the list next Wednesday despite the court ruling. The DMA on Wednesday launched a national Do-Not-Call Consumer Complaint System, allowing consumers who have listed phone numbers on the list to log complaints against companies they believe have not honored their wishes not to be called. The DMA also said it is helping the FCC enforce the list by asking members to contact the DMA and letting the association know which companies had obtained access to the list prior to the registry being closed over the past weekend.

The decision by Nottingham came shortly after both houses of Congress passed legislation aimed at ensuring the list goes into effect as scheduled so consumers can block many unwanted telemarketing sales pitches. The House voted 412-8 after less than an hour of debate.

The Senate vote was 95-0. Lawmakers from both parties uniformly blasted a decision early last week by U.S. District Judge Lee R. West in Oklahoma, who ruled that the Federal Trade Commission lacked authority to create and operate the registry. The bill says the FTC may operate the list, which was approved by Congress earlier this year and is scheduled to take effect Wednesday. Even if the bill is signed into law by President Bush, that does not automatically nullify the court orders. The cases brought by telemarketers must be resolved in order for the list to move ahead. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush was all but certain to sign the legislation. The speed with which Congress acted underscored the popularity of the list, which after less than four months already has nearly 51 million numbers.

The FTC expects the list to block 80 percent of telemarketing calls. Exemptions include calls from charities, pollsters and on behalf of politicians. The FTC’s rules require telemarketers to check the list every three months to see who doesn’t 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. The FTC is moving ahead with the list despite the court ruling and is encouraging consumers to continue signing up. “One way or another we believe this District Court decision will not stand in the way,” said Eileen Harrington, the FTC’s director of marketing practices. The FTC has asked the judge to delay the decision while it files an appeal. Since the FTC opened the do-not-call list for registration in June, people have submitted 31.1 million phone numbers at the Web site www.donotcall.gov and 10.9 million by calling toll-free at 1-888-382-1222. An additional 8.6 million numbers were transferred from existing state lists. There are about 166 million residential phone numbers in the United States and an additional 150 million cell phone numbers.

This story updates on item posted on Sept. 26.

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