Editorial: Surviving the No-Call Registry

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Telemarketers are hungry for information about how to work in this brave, new world they're being shoved into. Hungry for answers about regulations that take effect Oct. 1, and hungry for strategies so they can stay in business. At the American Teleservices Association's annual conference in Phoenix last week, it was clear that telemarketers want to know how they will survive once the national no-call registry is implemented. On a more basic level, many just want to know whether they will have jobs in a few months.

Attendees got an earful from the Federal Communications Commission's K. Dane Snowden, who tried to convince them that the no-call list would actually benefit the telemarketing industry somehow. (Oddly enough, no one bought it.) They also heard from industry veteran David Yoho, who scolded them for valuing profits over people. Yoho also urged the ATA to create an ethics committee so it can self-regulate the bad guys in the business. That's not a bad idea, but the committee would need true enforcement power so that it's not just walking around paying lip service. Thanks to the no-call registry, the mainstream media, not just the trades, also were at the conference, asking telemarketers what they thought might befall their industry.

Want a prediction? Here are two, though you won't like them very much. One, the national no-call list will shrink the number of consumers available to commercial telemarketers, and those telemarketers will pile on the calls to those who don't register, just as they've always called the maximum number of people they possibly can. Subsequently, those consumers will get angry and sign up for the no-call list, and the consumer pool will shrink even more. Imagine a registry with 100 million numbers in it. There is no incentive for telemarketers to show restraint.

Two, a few months down the road, the media will be reporting about complaints from consumers saying how the national no-call list isn't working, and politicians will respond with calls for even tougher regulations. The registry has plenty of loopholes, most notably for nonprofits, existing business relationships - the telephone, cable and credit companies must love that one - and, of course, political calls. Despite being warned otherwise, telemarketers will exploit every loophole to the fullest and bring further woe upon themselves.

Somebody please prove me wrong.

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