House Committee Backs No-Call Funding

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted yesterday to recommend that Congress approve funding for the Federal Trade Commission's national no-call registry.

H.R. 395, sponsored by committee chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-LA, would let the FTC charge telemarketers fees to fund the launch and maintenance of the list. The committee's recommendation of the bill erases doubt that the FTC would be unable to obtain funding for the registry this year, potentially delaying the start of the list until 2004.

Meanwhile, the Direct Marketing Association and the American Teleservices Association filed separate lawsuits yesterday in federal court challenging the Federal Trade Commission's national no-call list on constitutional grounds (see link below).

The bill now proceeds to the full Congress, where it is expected to gain approval in the House of Representatives and Senate. In addition to funding, the bill would require the Federal Communications Commission to complete its own plans to issue a national no-call rule within 180 days of the bill's passage.

After the FCC's filing of the rule, both it and the FTC would have 45 days to issue a report about inconsistencies between the two agencies' rules. This provision addresses concern on the committee that the FTC and FCC will produce conflicting no-call rules.

In December, Tauzin sparked concern that the launch of the registry would be delayed for a year when he wrote the FTC a letter, also signed by ranking committee Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, that he might block funding until the committee had a chance to review the proposal. He later expressed support for funding the registry after the FTC said it needed the committee's approval by the end of January.

Just before the vote yesterday, Tauzin said the committee needed to act on the bill “with all dispatch.” He said his purpose in sending the letter was to ensure that the FTC's registry received consideration in the committee and did not pass “by executive fiat.”

Support for the no-call list among other committee members, including Dingell, was nearly universal.

“This kind of calling is the source of vast outrage to almost all our constituents,” Dingell said. “Unwanted telemarketing calls have become, as I have noted, a vast nuisance that many consider an invasion of privacy.”

A lone voice of dissent came from Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, who said at least 1,000 people in his district were employed by the teleservices industry. Strickland said the FTC had failed to consider the no-call registry's effect on economically distressed communities and millions of Americans employed in call centers.

“These jobs are already threatened by stiff competition overseas,” he said. “I do not believe enough consideration has been given to the economic impact the FTC's proposed registry will have on communities across the country.”

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