Editorial: Reinventing the Wheel

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Sad to see a lawmaker resort to trickery to make a point or get a laugh. On second thought, it's par for the course. At last week's congressional briefing to discuss the Federal Trade Commission's national no-call registry, a ringing cell phone interrupted Rep. Edward Markey. Answering the call, he said, "No, I don't want to change my phone service. How did you get my cell phone number? I'm in a congressional hearing right now." So, was the call legitimate? No. Markey's staff said afterward that he had arranged to receive the call to help make his point.

Markey withstanding, other congressmen attending the House Energy and Commerce Committee briefing seemed more concerned with the agency's jurisdiction and the $16 million needed to start the registry. The political backlash is probably too great for committee chairman Billy Tauzin to delay funding. (Who wants to be known as the guy who let telemarketers run free?) But the concerns are legitimate. Specifically, the FTC's limited authority to police calls from certain industries, including airlines, banks and telephone companies; how a national list will mesh with state-run DNC lists; and what the Federal Communications Commission is planning.

However, it doesn't matter whether the funding comes this month or later this year, consumers will sign up for the list whenever it takes effect. So, at what point did the Direct Marketing Association switch positions and start supporting a nationally run list -- not by the FTC but by the FCC? DMA statements in September and December made it very clear that creating any list would "reinvent the wheel." Last week, however, the DMA suddenly said it "continues to support a national do-not-call list. ... Such a national registry should include the lists from the various states, which the FCC is required to do, in any list they mandate."

Why the waffling? Instead of opposing the list, like the DMA did for all of 2002, it would have been better off working with federal officials to craft the guidelines -- especially ones that matter, like incorporating the state lists into a national one so telemarketers don't have to keep track of 51 separate lists. Funny, the DMA did the same thing last summer in its opposition to creating a presidential commission to look into the U.S. Postal Service. For months, the DMA said such a commission was a waste of time but changed its tune when it became apparent one was going to be named.

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