ATA Blasts Revival of CA Dialer Restrictions

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The American Teleservices Association has criticized California lawmakers for reviving proposed predictive-dialer restrictions that the organization had thought were dead.


The state Senate passed the bill 25-6 late on July 20 after ATA legal watchers had gone home for the day. A delay in passage of the state's budget bill, which would have signaled the start of the Legislature's summer recess, provided extra time for the predictive-dialer bill to proceed.


"When we left the office Friday, we had been advised the Senate had canceled the floor session for that day," the ATA said in a statement on its Web site.


ATA officials said they were dismayed to return the following week to find that the Senate had passed the bill, with amendments. The bill now goes back to the state Assembly, which returns Aug. 20, for approval of the Senate's amendments.


Because it passed the original bill by a margin of 71-2, there is no reason to expect the Assembly to reject the amendments, the ATA said. The bill calls on the state's Public Utilities Commission to develop rules for implementing the restrictions by July 2002.


The bill would make it illegal to use predictive dialers to call consumers without a live operator or a prerecorded message available. Predictive dialers, which revolutionized the teleservices industry by increasing call capacity and efficiency, sometimes make calls when there is no agent available to respond to the person who picks up the phone, leading to abandoned calls and irate consumers.


Previous efforts to curtail predictive dialers have proposed setting the call-abandonment rate at zero, which the industry complained would effectively prohibit the technology. This time, the proposed restrictions would allow telemarketers to have a prerecorded message field the call if a live agent is not available.


The Kansas Legislature passed a similar bill June 1.


In its statement, the ATA admitted that its members were divided on whether prerecorded messages are an acceptable solution to abandoned calls, but it criticized the California bill for making violators liable to criminal prosecution even though most violations result from administrative or clerical errors.


"A criminal charge requires a demonstration of intent or negligence, a significantly higher standard than a civil infraction," the ATA said. "Enforcing this legislation may create a near impossible task."


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