California Sets Dialer Abandonment Rate

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The California Public Utilities Commission yesterday gave final approval to new restrictions that would limit telemarketers to abandonment rates of less than 3 percent through the end of the year and 1 percent after Jan. 1, 2003.

In a 5-0 vote, the commission instituted the rules for hang-up or "abandoned" telemarketing calls, which take effect July 1. Abandoned calls often occur due to the use of predictive dialers, which are automated dialers that increase call center efficiency but sometimes place calls when no telemarketing agent is available.

Consumer groups, including AARP, have criticized telemarketers for abandoned calls, saying they often cause consumers to worry that they are being spied upon or harassed.

The commission defined abandoned calls as: those that disconnect after the called person answers; when the called party does not receive a response from a telemarketer within two seconds of picking up the line; or when no telemarketing agent is available within four seconds of the called person's phone going off the hook. The four-second standard is temporary, lasting until Jan. 1, the commission said.

Violators of the restriction would be subject to penalties of at least $500 and up to $20,000. Calls to consumers with whom a company has an existing business relationship are exempt.

California state lawmakers directed the commission to institute rules for abandonment rates last year. The Direct Marketing Association's standard for abandoned calls is 5 percent.

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