FTC Official Faces Industry Music

PALM BEACH, FL – Eileen Harrington, the Federal Trade Commission's point person on the national do-not-call list and other proposed rules, went into a den of telemarketers Friday and got an earful of complaints.

But Harrington, who met with industry representatives for a roundtable discussion at the DMA Teleservices Conference 2002 held here at The Breakers hotel, gave back as good as she got.

“You don't have a lot of credibility, to be perfectly honest,” Harrington, the FTC's director of marketing practices, told the audience of approximately 50 telemarketers.

If telemarketers had adhered to the present rules, which give each company one shot at each consumer and require them to honor all DNC requests, a national DNC list would not be under discussion, Harrington said.

“This industry since 1995 has had a chance to make a company-specific do-not-call system work,” Harrington said. “This is an industry that was given more than an inch and has taken more than a mile.”

In her own personal experience, Harrington said, she was aware that telemarketers often try to circumvent the rules by hanging up when consumers ask to be placed on their DNC lists, or by denying that their calls are for sales purposes, then trying to make a sale. Technology, such as predictive dialers, is being abused, Harrington said.

While Harrington got to speak her mind, telemarketers at the roundtable gave voice to their frustrations and fears about the FTC's proposals. Most were concerned the FTC was punishing the entire industry for the faults of bad telemarketers and had not considered the economic impact of its proposals.

“Eventually, everybody is going on the list,” said Art Conway, president of DialAmerica Marketing. “If you create this national do-not-call list, the way you have it proposed, we're going out of business.”

Telemarketers at the meeting indicated they were not reassured by Harrington's statement that the FTC would be able to enforce its proposed rules against teleservices agencies outside the United States. The FTC could take legal action against overseas companies, but the process would be longer and more difficult, they said.

“By the time you get around to doing it, you're going to put a minimum of 300,000 people back on welfare,” said Jon Hamilton, president of JHA Telemanagement. “Small towns, like Harlan, IA, you're going to wipe them off the map.”

Many suggested that the FTC conduct an economic impact study of the effect of the proposed new telemarketing regulations. Harrington said no such study had been conducted, nor was any planned, but the FTC was accepting data from the industry and had a team of economists studying the issue.

“If you take away the channel, you're going to damage commerce,” said Paul Glancy, senior vice president for call services with The Martin Agency.

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