House Passes Industry-Backed Caller-ID Bill

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The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Know Your Caller Act, which would prohibit telemarketers from intentionally blocking caller-ID information from consumers.

Proposed by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-NJ, it would allow consumers to sue telemarketers who violate the law for $500 per violation. The Direct Marketing Association and the American Teleservices Association have voiced support for the bill.

"We think they've taken a reasoned approach," said Jerry Cerasale, DMA senior vice president of government affairs.

Frelinghuysen's bill has the support of the teleservices industry because it punishes only those who intentionally block caller ID, said Matt Mattingley, ATA director of legislative affairs.

According to the ATA and other industry groups, caller-ID information sometimes cannot be transmitted over certain telephone lines and switches. The problem affects consumers as well as telemarketers, resulting in certain calls appearing as "unidentified" on caller ID, Mattingley said.

Frelinghuysen's bill calls for a study to determine the extent of the problem and how much it would cost to upgrade telecommunications equipment nationwide.

But a caller-ID bill in the Senate is less flexible and has drawn the ire of some teleservices professionals. The bill proposed in April by Sen. Bill Frist, R-TN, makes no allowance for technical hurdles to the transmission of caller-ID data, nor does it call for a study of the issue. It requires telemarketers to reveal their caller-ID information, regardless of technical limitations, or face up to $5,000 in fines. The bill remains in committee for review.

The Senate bill would place an unacceptable burden on the teleservices industry and is opposed by the ATA, Mattingley said.

"It's like passing a law that mandates a cure for cancer," he said. "It's an absurd bill."

Cerasale said the DMA had stopped short of opposing the senator's bill, though he acknowledged that provisions in it needed work. The DMA is in discussions with Frist and plans to work with him on it, Cerasale said.

Frelinghuysen's bill needs to pass the Senate before the end of the legislative session in late 2002 to become law. Cerasale predicted no further action on the caller-ID bill this year but that some version of it had a good chance to become law next year.

In the last congressional session, which ended in 2000, a caller-ID bill supported by the teleservices industry passed the House but failed to overcome a bill unfriendly to the industry in the Senate.


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