FCC Explores National DNC Options

The Federal Communications Commission said yesterday it would explore the creation of a national do-not-call registry that would be unhampered by many of the exemptions limiting the Federal Trade Commission's proposed nationwide DNC list.

Meeting at FCC headquarters in Washington, commissioners said it was considering a national list because of changes to the telemarketing industry since the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the law under which it regulates telemarketers, was implemented in 1992. Since then, the introduction of predictive dialers has produced an increase in the number of phone calls consumers receive daily and has led to problems, such as abandoned calls, that generate consumer frustration.

“Unrestricted telemarketing has gone beyond being a nuisance and become in many cases an invasion of privacy,” commissioner Michael Copps said. “The technologies of intrusion have proliferated over recent years.”

Congress granted the FCC the power to create a national no-call registry when it passed the TCPA in 1991. However, when the act was implemented, the FCC declined to create a list, choosing instead to permit consumers to opt out of telemarketing calls on a company-by-company basis.

The FTC has said it plans to announce its final rule for its proposed national no-call list in “early fall,” which some in the telemarketing industry interpret to mean sometime in October. However, because the FTC lacks jurisdiction over some industries, such as telecommunications common carriers, its list would be limited in effect, whereas the FCC's list would affect all industries under the TCPA and would also extend to calls made within states.

The FCC cannot say when it expects to finalize its own national DNC plans, commission chairman Michael Powell said. However, the agency will cooperate with the FTC to ensure the two agencies don't duplicate efforts or conflict in any way.

“If it's a good thing to do, we need to do it, at least in parallel or cooperative with their efforts so we don't create a morass or confused environment for consumers and they're not sure who to call or what database to look up,” Powell said.

The FCC also said it would review rules within the TCPA regarding other telemarketing practices, including the use of autodialers, prerecorded messages and unsolicited commercial faxes. In addition, commissioners said they were concerned that local number portability — which in November 2003 will allow consumers to transfer their home phone numbers to their wireless phones — would bring an increase in telemarketing calls to consumer cell phones.

“The protections created by the TCPA are among the most important activities we undertake,” commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said. “They have the most immediate impact on the public — and me personally. I reach the limit with the sixth call when I get home.”

In response to the FCC's announcement, the Direct Marketing Association issued a statement affirming its opposition to federal DNC lists and reiterating its support for its own industry-run DNC list, the Telephone Preference Service. The TPS contains 4.8 million consumer phone numbers and is being expanded to include numbers registered with state DNC lists, the DMA said.

“Any new government regulation of this already heavily regulated industry must take into account the millions of jobs and thousands of companies at stake,” said H. Robert Wientzen, president/CEO of the DMA.

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