FTC Choice for No-Call Contract Surprises Industry

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Some members of the telemarketing no-call compliance industry expressed surprise yesterday that the Federal Trade Commission chose telecommunications carrier AT&T to build its national do-not-call registry.

The FTC awarded the contract to AT&T's Government Solutions unit, according to an announcement from AT&T yesterday. The contract is valued at $3.5 million for the current fiscal year, which runs through September, and has options allowing the FTC to extend it for up to nine more years.

However, the FTC has estimated the cost of launching the no-call list at $16 million in the first year. According to AT&T, 60 million people are expected to register when the list becomes available this summer.

AT&T probably won the contract because of its ability to provide the interactive voice response technology and inbound call volume capacity that will be needed to handle consumer registration for the list, said Scott Frey, president/CEO of Duluth, GA-based DNC compliance firm PossibleNow.

The FTC has expressed concern that so many people will rush to register that inbound phone lines will jam, as has happened in some states during DNC list launches. A "rolling" registration is planned, whereby geographic sections of the nation get the chance to register at different times.

However, AT&T appears to lack the experience with database management shown by other vendors serving DNC lists at the state level who likely sought the job, said Frey, whose company did not compete for the FTC contract.

"It surprised me because of the big players out there that do list management at the state level," he said. "The government decided to go with another player that's new."

AT&T spokesman Jim McGann acknowledged that the Government Solutions unit is best known for supplying telecommunications to government. However, the unit has branched into providing integrated solutions and has no plans to bring in subcontractors to assist in the project.

"We feel this is the kind of work we're capable of doing," McGann said. "The skills you need here are the kind of skills we bring to the table."

AT&T's national brand name likely influenced the government's decision, Frey said. If AT&T lacks a needed capability, he added, "they're big enough to get it."

An FTC spokeswoman said the list of candidates for the contract was not public record. However, rumors have circled the industry since early this week that the other companies on the short list included other telecommunications carriers and GovConnect, a government technology firm that maintains no-call databases in Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Kansas.

Anne Abate, director of Internet strategy for GovConnect, confirmed the company had hoped to be chosen for the contract through a partner. GovConnect will continue to seek no-call list maintenance contracts at the state level, she said.

"Several other state lists are up now," she said. "We're interested in all of them."


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