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DNC Talk Dominates ATA Conference

WASHINGTON — Attendance spiked 30 percent to 160 people for the American Teleservices Association's annual legislative conference here, with ATA executive director Jason Clawson attributing the increase to growing regulatory activity at the local and federal level.

During the three-day conference, representatives of the teleservices industry got an earful about legal challenges to their way of doing business.

Eileen Harrington, marketing practices director at the Federal Trade Commission, told conference attendees that most of the public support the proposed national do-not-call list, as indicated by the majority of the 42,000 comments sent to the FTC about the proposal.

C. Tyler Prochnow, the ATA's state legislative counsel and a DM News contributor, told attendees that lawmakers on the state level have proposed 180 pieces of legislation this year aimed at the industry. Of the 28 states that don't have a DNC list, only five didn't consider creating one this year, and four of those weren't even scheduled to meet in 2002.

But Prochnow said that though Oklahoma and Pennsylvania enacted DNC list laws this year, 10 states defeated such legislation. These states are Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

Attorney Reed Freeman, a former FTC official who worked under Harrington, warned telemarketers that the FTC is increasingly prosecuting lawsuits against telephone solicitors. Current FTC leadership also has been more aggressive in pursuing teleservices providers, who are now being held liable for the marketing practices of their clients.

Gary Cohen, chairman of the ATA's government affairs committee, summed up the fears of some of those present when he said, “They're not about reasonableness. They're about putting us out of business.”

But not all the news was bad for the industry. For one, Harrington assured telemarketers that the FTC has no plans to promote registration to the proposed national DNC list.

“We're agnostic about whether people should sign up or not,” she said.

And fears that the Direct Marketing Association might cut a deal with the FTC on the national DNC list appear unfounded. Clawson had said some members worried that the DMA might agree to the list if the FTC agreed to require telemarketers to use the DMA's Telephone Preference Service.

Such a deal would have financial benefits for the DMA, Clawson said. However, DMA spokesman Louis Mastria said no deal with the FTC was on the table.

“Our stance remains the same,” Mastria said. “The government is getting involved in an area it should not be.”

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