Forum Will Shape FTC Teleservices Debate

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A three-day forum on the Telemarketing Sales Rule early next month could influence the Federal Trade Commission's decision concerning a proposed national do-not-call list and predictive dialers.


Teleservices boosters and their opponents will debate these and other issues critical to the industry June 5-7 at FTC headquarters, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington.


The first day will be dedicated to the national DNC list, which forum participants identified as the top issue. The morning of the second day will include testimony on acceptable abandonment rates for predictive dialers, a key issue for companies that do high-volume outbound telemarketing, and caller ID-blocking restrictions.


Other issues to be discussed include pre-acquired account information, nonprofit fundraising through telemarketing and the use of prison-inmate telemarketers. Given the weight of the issues, the FTC forum could be one of the most significant meetings concerning the industry ever.


"This is not a slight revision," said Dennis McGarry, president of Personal Legal Plans Inc., Charlotte, NC. "It will have a significant impact on the industry."


The 44 registered participants include trade associations and consumer groups such as the American Teleservices Association, the Direct Marketing Association, AARP and the National Consumer League. Individual companies scheduled to testify include DialAmerica Marketing Inc., Mahwah, NJ, and Sytel, a provider of predictive-dialing systems.


One face many telemarketers won't be happy to see will be that of Robert Bulmash, president of Private Citizen Inc. and a longtime opponent of the industry. Bulmash said the forum presented a chance to resolve the issue before the telemarketing industry, which he defined as "substantially requiring the industry to act as socially responsible corporate citizens."


"They treat us like walking wallets," he said. "We're not."


Though the forum presents an opportunity for privacy advocates, it also represents danger, Bulmash said. His biggest worry is that the FTC will design the national DNC list to supersede state DNC lists, which Bulmash said could be a potentially fatal loophole.


Another forum participant, Call Compliance Inc., said it would be neutral on the regulatory issues facing the industry and the FTC. Call Compliance, Glen Cove, NY, provides telemarketers with technology to help them comply with DNC laws.


"We have a technology we feel can be implemented that can enable some of the changes the FTC is proposing right now," said Joseph Sanscrainte, director of regulatory affairs and general counsel for Call Compliance.


McGarry said he wants to ensure the FTC understands that the telemarketing rules it makes will affect small-business owners as well as large corporations. In many ways, small businesses have more to lose because they lack the resources corporations have to invest in DNC compliance.


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