FCC, FTC Urge More Communication With Telemarketers

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WASHINGTON -- Representatives of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission -- two agencies that keep an eye on telemarketers -- said yesterday that they need more communication with the people they are charged with watching.

Margaret Egler, associate chief of the FCC's consumer information bureau, told those gathered for the American Teleservices Association legislative conference that consumer complaints to her office are on the increase. However, she said the FCC needs to have more contact with the teleservices industry to get its side of the story.

"We have ongoing relationships with the other industries [we cover]," Egler said. "But we don't know a lot about the day-to-day inner workings of telemarketers."

Egler invited ATA representatives to give presentations at the FCC's call center, where 80 agents take consumer phone calls and complaints. Knowing more about the industry would help the representatives address consumer concerns, she said.

"Our men and women are on the phone eight hours a day talking to consumers," Egler said. "It always helps to talk from a position of expertise."

The FTC has been including the teleservices industry's input in its ongoing review of the federal Telephone Sale Rule, which went into effect in 1995, said Katie Harrington-McBride, an attorney at the FTC's division of marketing practices. Industry representatives have been regular contributors at hearings on the rule's effects.

"It helps a lot to have you all participating in that," Harrington-McBride said. "Let's keep that dialogue open."

Consumers have been talking as well, and often they raise the same issues as telemarketers, including do-not-call lists, caller-ID and predictive dialers, Harrington-McBride said. However, they usually are on the opposite side of the fence from the teleservices industry.

For example, most teleservices companies are happy with the federal government's approach of requiring telemarketers to keep their own DNC lists. Most consumers say they want a single list for which they can register and eliminate all telemarketing calls, Harrington-McBride said.

Another issue that raises consumer hackles is the use of predictive dialers, which sometimes results in hang-up calls when the dialer contacts a consumer and there is no agent available to speak. Some consumers complain that hang-up calls lead them to believe an elderly relative in trouble tried to contact them but could not or that they are victims of a stalker.

"It's a frightening world," Harrington-McBride said. "People get scared when hang-ups occur."

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