Huge Response to DNC Registry Causes Online Delays

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Though President Bush formally opened the National Do Not Call Registry on Friday, the crush of people trying to register overloaded the online system that morning. Another problem reported was that many of the confirming e-mails from the Federal Trade Commission to those who did manage to register may have been blocked as spam.


By 5 p.m. Friday, 735,000 people had signed up for the registry, which opened at midnight Thursday. At one point, more than 1,000 people per second were getting through and registering, said Eileen Harrington, marketing practices division director at the FTC.


Her advice to those who couldn't get through: Try again another day because enforcement of the list does not begin until October. No problems were reported for people calling the toll-free number.


"We've gotten comments from people who have gotten through and from those who couldn't," she said. "People don't have to register today to be included on the list."


The FTC put a warning notice on its Web site, saying that because of "high registration volume, you may experience slow response time." To ease the problem, AT&T Government Solutions added system capacity and more Web servers, spokesman Jim McGann said.


"We expected a huge flow, just not this much," he said.


AT&T, which was hired to launch and maintain the registry, also delayed delivering the confirmation e-mails, McGann said, though he did not know when they would start back up.


Meanwhile, Eric Greenberg, co-founder and chief technology officer at NetFrameworks, said his researchers noticed that spam-blocking services from Yahoo and other e-mail service providers may have inadvertently blocked the FTC's e-mail confirmations as spam.


Greenberg could not estimate how many e-mails were blocked but said it was a "substantial percentage." NetFrameworks, McLean, VA, is a security products and consulting services firm.


"It's quite amusing and ironic in a way," he said. "This highlights how difficult it is to control the flow of unsolicited communications of any kind, be it phone or e-mail. Current unsolicited communications detection and assurance mechanisms are based on a set of arbitrarily defined rules. The people that control the rules, by definition, often know very little about what truly constitutes spam or unwanted solicitations."


After registering online, consumers will receive an e-mail and need to click on a link in the e-mail within 72 hours to complete the registration process.


McGann declined to comment on NetFrameworks' claim, referring the question to the FTC. At press time the FTC had not returned a call for comment.


In the White House ceremony to launch the registry Bush said, "Unwanted telemarketing calls are intrusive, they are annoying and they're all too common. When Americans are sitting down to dinner, or a parent is reading to his or her child, the last thing they need is a call from a stranger with a sales pitch."


With Bush were FTC chairman Timothy J. Muris and Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael K. Powell.


"Government is at its best when it empowers individuals to make their own choices," Powell said. "Consumers wanted more control over their telephones -- and we are giving it to them."


Consumers nationwide can register online at www.donotcall.gov. Those in states west of the Mississippi River, including Louisiana and Minnesota, can call 888/382-1222. On July 7, phone registration opens to the entire country. If consumers register by phone, they must call from the number they want to register. Registration lasts for five years, until a number is disconnected or until the consumer takes it off the registry.


After Oct. 1, telemarketers will be required to access the registry every three months and scrub numbers on it from their call lists. Telemarketers who call a number on the list could be fined up to $11,000 per call.


Of the states with do-not-call lists, 13 plan to add their lists of 8.1 million numbers to the national registry, three have legislation pending to allow them to share and 11 will not share the information, the FTC said. Consumers on state lists added to the national one do not need to register again.


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