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Editorial: Who Needs Harmony?

Why is the Federal Trade Commission placating state attorneys general with its plans for a national do-not-call list? If it goes through with creating a list, the FTC’s intention is to “harmonize” the state lists with the national list while leaving the state ones intact. This became more clear in a request for proposal the FTC quietly distributed last month to database companies that might maintain the national list. Most of all, it will keep attorneys general — who don’t want to lose something they worked so hard to get enacted — happy.

The FTC’s proposal says the database company it selects will have to integrate the existing state lists with the national list once. After that, it hasn’t figured out what to do when names are added to the state lists. Currently, 27 states have created their own DNC lists, and it seems like all the rest have ones pending this year. Let’s forget about harmony for a minute. The compliance issue is complicated enough. Simplicity would be a much better — and preferred — word for consumers and the telemarketing industry alike. As Matt Mattingley of the American Teleservices Association said, “If we’re going to have a national list, let’s have a national list. If we’re going to have 50 state lists, let’s have 50 state lists. You can’t have both.” Consumers would want this because then they only have to call one number to stop getting calls. Telemarketing companies would want this because it simplifies concerns about compliance and avoids a legislative quagmire.

The FTC notes in the document that it has yet to receive necessary funding approval from Congress and that a national DNC list isn’t a foregone conclusion. Yeah, right. The FTC is marching a straight line toward enacting a national list. That became evident twice this summer: at a special DNC forum and the DMA’s Teleservices Conference 2002. If telemarketers had adhered to the present rules, a national list would not be under discussion, the FTC’s Eileen Harrington told industry representatives at the DMA meeting. “You don’t have a lot of credibility, to be perfectly honest,” she said. The FTC has said it will announce its decision whether it will create a list in “early fall.” That’s any day now.

Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission said last week that it is mulling its own DNC list, though it says it will cooperate with the FTC so they don’t duplicate their efforts. Another list? Wonder what this will mean.

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