ATA Questions Timing of No-Call Ceremony Planning

PHOENIX — An American Teleservices Association attorney yesterday questioned the timing of the Federal Communications Commission's involvement in the planning of a White House ceremony to announce the launch of the national no-call list.

Bob Corn-Revere, lead counsel in the ATA's federal challenge of the no-call list, confronted an FCC official who spoke at the ATA convention here yesterday with a document dated April 24 showing that FCC chairman Michael Powell had been slated at that time to appear at the Rose Garden ceremony with President Bush in late June. However, on April 24 the FCC was still receiving public comments about the no-call list and had yet to officially announce its decision.

The existence of the document, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request through the Federal Trade Commission, lends credence to industry suspicions that the FCC's decision regarding the national list had been predetermined, Corn-Revere said.

At the time of the document's date, the FTC had its no-call plans in place, and industry members have questioned whether the FCC truly listened to the industry's concerns or simply went along with the FTC.

The agency official, K. Dane Snowden, chief of the FCC consumer and governmental affairs bureau, responded that the FTC did not notify FCC staff about the Rose Garden ceremony until a week before the event took place. He noted that the document came from the FTC and not his agency.

“They're more than welcome to plan an event,” Snowden said. “That's not my place to state.”

The FCC has a rulemaking process in place to ensure that everyone — industry and consumers — gets a chance to have participation and input, said Snowden, who gave the keynote at the ATA's 20th Annual Convention and Exhibition here at the J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa. The agency followed that procedure for the national no-call list.

“Our mandate is to serve the public interest,” Snowden said. “The overriding point of this is that the rules affecting business and life are not changed at the drop of a hat.”

Congress did instruct the FCC to “maximize consistency” between its rules and the FTC rules, and the two agencies did discuss their rulemaking proceedings, Snowden said. However, the agency's rules differ on some important points, such as how abandoned-call rates are measured.

Though some audience members, including Corn-Revere, praised Snowden for appearing at the convention, others questioned whether his agency had given full weight to the industry's concerns. Some asked Snowden whether the FCC had done economic impact studies before passing the no-call rules.

Lisa T. Scheuerman told Snowden that her small business may be snuffed out by the no-call list. Scheuerman, who runs A Direct Result Inc., a Baltimore-based service agency with 17 agents that does outbound calling for mortgage refinancing, said she might not last past December.

Contact rates keep declining, and agents are harder to keep because of declining commissions, she said. Scheuerman said she took a second mortgage on her home to start her business and may return to sales if her company falters.

When asked, consumers routinely say they don't want telemarketing calls, Scheuerman said. Yet the same consumers often are receptive when presented with an attractive offer, she said.

“Those people are no longer going to be available to us,” she said.

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