Telemarketing Bills Have Had Little Impact -- So Far

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WASHINGTON -- Despite a bevy of proposed state laws that would add to the load of telemarketing regulations, relatively little damage has been done so far during this year's state legislative sessions, the American Teleservices Association's state legal expert said yesterday.

Speaking at the ATA's annual legislative conference here, C. Tyler Prochnow, ATA state legislative counsel, said that despite 33 states considering do-not-call list bills this year, only one state, Wyoming, has passed such a bill. Eight other states have defeated state DNC list bills this year.

No states have yet passed so-called "dinnertime bills" -- legislation that would ban telemarketing calls during pre-defined dinner hours -- although several such laws have been proposed. Some states have proposed legislation that would make the use of predictive dialers -- computer devices that maximize calling capacity -- difficult or illegal, but none have passed.

"I've yet to see a piece of legislation get through that has been absolutely devastating to the industry," Prochnow said. "This is the most resilient and adaptive industry I've ever seen."

Nevertheless, the overall volume of telemarketing legislation at the state level is on the rise, Prochnow said. This year, the ATA has tracked more than 190 pieces of state legislation affecting telemarketers.

The ATA is struggling to decide what position to take with regard to states requiring telemarketers to use the Direct Marketing Association's Telephone Preference Service, a do-not-call list that the DMA requires all its members to use. Wyoming's new DNC list law requires the use of the DMA list, as do older laws in Connecticut and Maine.

Though the DMA's stance has been that its DNC list should be used as a last resort rather than states creating lists of their own, the ATA is still examining the benefits and constitutionality of the practice, Prochnow said.

Prochnow said he considered attempts to ban telemarketing calls during arbitrarily defined dinner hours to be particularly noxious. Several states have proposed blanket bans on all telemarketing calls after 5 p.m. to avoid potential constitutional issues with dinnertime laws.

"The idea of the government dictating dinnertime hours is ridiculous," Prochnow said. "When they talk about regulation intruding on our lives, this is it."

Finally, the ATA is reconsidering its stance on proposed laws that would punish telemarketers that fail to display caller-ID information. The ATA's opinion in the past had been that such laws are burdensome since many call centers are unable to display caller-ID information because of technical problems with telephone carriers.

However, many state legislators are learning that technology does exist to overcome such problems and are not satisfied with the ATA's position, Prochnow said. The ATA is retooling its stance to take into account the fiscal problems with requiring telemarketers to display caller-ID information as well as the technical issues.

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