ATA lays out legislative, advocacy priorities

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CRYSTAL CITY, VA - Protecting the existing business relationship exemption under do-not-call; preventing the implementation of onerous and anti-business legislation; winning a fight with the Federal Trade Commission over the exclusive jurisdiction issue; and stopping fraud represent the legislative and advocacy priorities the American Teleservices Association is focusing on.

Stuart Discount, president of 121 Direct Response and chairman of the ATA Government Affairs Committee, parlayed this message at the association's 2007 Washington Summit here.

"Our goals for the near future [are to] make sure our side of the issue is heard loud and clear," he said.

Mr. Discount said the ATA has spent a significant amount of time lobbying Congress, the FTC and the FCC. In most cases, the ATA has learned that the existing business relationship exemption under the DNC is being watched closely.

"There is speculation that the exemption is being overused by industry and the cause of many of the complaints received by congressional offices and the FTC," he said

Indiana, for example, currently has no exemption for business relationships.

"What would happen if that were the case in all 50 states?" Mr. Discount asked. "Can you imagine a scenario where thousands of your customers could not be reached by telephone? That would drive up marketing costs, reduce effectiveness and increase your competitors' chance to take your clients."

Mr. Discount added there have also been a rash of bills submitted to Congress and states that would alter caller-ID provisions, including one at the Senate level that would allow the FCC to bring new exceptions and rules to caller-ID transmission.

"Do we really want the FCC to create more rules?" Mr. Discount asked. Many bills would also regulate inbound calls - including customer service calls. Currently there are five bills in five states related to how long a consumer must wait on a call and bills related to consumers' getting out of a queue to talk to someone live.

"The reason we need to have an SRO is born out of the fact that if we don't [self-regulate] the regulators will do it for us," Mr. Discount said. "How can we let regulators and lawmakers make decisions for us that would lead to increased costs because of staffing?"

Mr. Discount said that to fight these bills the ATA has to have a unified program that is well funded. A key part of the program is keeping track of the number of jobs that would be lost in different jurisdictions if call centers were closed as a result of regulations, Mr. Discount said.

This information will be passed on to legislators and regulators.

The ATA also has a Political Action Committee and is donating thousands of dollars through it to lawmakers it would like to dialogue with.

Mr. Discount urged attendees to donate more money to the PAC.

"The money has not been very impressive and it usually comes form the same pocketbooks," he said. "I believe the ATA has to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and it also needs participation that goes beyond donations."

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