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FTC amends Telemarketing Sales Rule and plans National Do-not-call Registry

Update: The FTC has announced a schedule for implementing the do not call registry. For details, (link opens in a new window) click to this article on the Consumer Affairs site.

Posted December 19, 2002

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Wednesday a series of amendments to the Telemarketing Sales Rule including the development of a national "do-not-call" registry that will help consumers to stop most unwanted telemarketing calls. The other amendments include new provisions that will:

  • crack down on unauthorized billing by telemarketers;
  • impose tight new restrictions on the practice of "call abandonment" - where a consumer answers the phone, only to find "dead air;" and
  • require telemarketers to transmit Caller-ID information, so that consumers who subscribe to Caller-ID services will know who is calling.

Most of the new rules are effective immediately. But creating the "do not call" registry will take some time. Congress has to approve funding, and then it will take about four months for the FTC to be ready for consumer registrations. Registration via the Internet will be available nationwide at that time, but access via toll-free number will be phased in by region. About two months after the completion of the phased-in registration, telemarketers will be able to access the registry to "scrub" their call lists so that they can avoid calling consumers listed. A month after that, the Commission will begin enforcing the "do not call" registry provisions. Registration will be good for five years, or until the consumer changes phone numbers or moves.

Exceptions to the Rule: Telemarketers can still call consumers with whom they have an "established business relationship," if the consumer has purchased, leased, or rented goods or services from the company within 18 months preceding the call, or if the consumer has submitted an application or made an inquiry to the company within the three months preceding the call. Even if there is an "established business relationship," consumers can make a specific request to the company not to call.

Charities are exempt from the rule, but must keep their own do-not-call lists and cease calling you when you ask them to quit.

Consumer Groups weigh in on Pluses and Minuses: Consumer Action's Linda Sherry told me "This is a great day for consumers. We have reached a critical mass in our dislike of interruptions by telemarketers. The national do-not-call list will allow people who don't want to be called to opt out of calls for up to five years- who could argue with a plan like that?" But some telemarketing industry groups say they will argue with the plan and may go to court in attempts to stop it.

The National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates points out that the national do-not-call list will supplement -- not replace -- existing state laws that may offer consumers greater protection against telemarketers. NASUCA is asking the FTC to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has also proposed a do-not-call list, to achieve a single list covering telemarketing calls by all businesses under each agency's jurisdiction. Otherwise you will have to get on two lists. That's because phone companies regulated by the FCC are not subject to the FTC rules.

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