ATA, DMA Refute Cell Phone 411 'Urban Myth'

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A chain e-mail making the rounds of the Internet prompted two industry associations to issue statements last week denying that a forthcoming wireless number directory would cause an explosion of telemarketing calls to cell phones.


The American Teleservices Association and Direct Marketing Association both slammed the e-mail for spreading an "urban myth" or legend. Probably as a result of the e-mail, consumers added about 1 million new numbers to the national no-call list in the last week of November and 2 million in the first week of December, up from an average of 200,000 weekly, the FTC said.


Apparently disseminated by users forwarding it to friends, the e-mail has circulated since at least November, according to Snopes.com, an Internet urban legends Web site. The e-mail warns that a directory of cell phone numbers soon will become available -- in some versions of the e-mail by Jan. 1 -- and will be used by telemarketers. It advises consumers to register their cell numbers to the national no-call list or risk having their wireless minutes eaten up by telemarketing calls.


However, federal law has prohibited the use of autodialers to send telemarketing calls to wireless devices since the Telephone Consumer Protection Act passed in 1991. As a result, most telemarketing calls to cell phones are already illegal, regardless of the no-call list.


The wireless directory cited in the e-mail does not yet exist. It is a joint project under development by wireless providers. The directory will include only the numbers of wireless users who specifically opt in and will not be made available to telemarketers. It will operate similarly to the presently available 411-information service. A print version is not planned.


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