EDITORIAL: Don't Call Us

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Let's start with some numbers. According to Census 2000, there are 281,421,906 people living in the United States, give or take the 2.4 million forms that officials say may have been counted twice. Now, think of the 13 states that have enacted do-not-call laws over the past few years and the six states that already have announced plans to consider ones this year. It's just January, so you can bet things won't end there, either. Before long, it's highly likely that every state in the union will have a DNC list in place. Add those six states -- California, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Texas -- to the total, and nearly 150 million people (53 percent of the population) would have the option to tell their states they don't want to be called by telemarketers.

Texas state Rep. Burt Solomons, who introduced the bill in his state earlier this month, says telemarketers have only themselves to blame because the industry opposed efforts to create a nationwide DNC list and because the federal government's failure to act has forced state legislatures to take measures into their own hands. The lists are popular with politicians because they can say to their constituents, "Hey, see what I've done for you. I'm making it so you can tell these guys to shove it up their ears." What they're not saying is how difficult it is to administer these lists, nor are they mentioning any of the interstate complexities involved.

More important is the small percentage of consumers who actually sign up for these lists. Do people balk at the $3-$10 charge to have their names added, or do they just not know about them? If truly only 3 percent to 5 percent of each state's population makes use of these lists, I'd say that our lawmakers have bigger issues to deal with. I'm much more interested in the Know Your Caller bill being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives again this year. Last year, it passed the House, but the Senate failed to vote on its version. My blanket rule is to ignore all telephone calls that show up as "unavailable" on my caller-ID just because I don't know which telemarketer is calling. However, if I knew beforehand what company I would be talking to, it might be a different story.

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