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Industry Waits While FTC Stays Silent on National DNC

The Federal Trade Commission is urging people not to read too much into consumer protection bureau director J. Howard Beales' Oct. 24 statement that a national no-call registry would be an “early Christmas present.”

October has come and gone with the FTC not yet issuing a final rule on its proposals for a national do-not-call list, as many in telemarketing had expected. As to when the industry can expect the FTC's definitive statement, an FTC spokesman said only that the agency hoped to issue a rule by the end of the year and have a DNC list implemented in the first quarter of 2003.

The vagueness of the FTC's timeline and its apparent silence on the issue since a public workshop on the Telemarketing Sales Rule in June –save for an August request for quotes from database companies on how much it would cost to maintain the DNC list — have left some in telemarketing a bit perplexed.

“No one knows when it's coming out,” said Noreen Kaminski, vice president at DialAmerica Marketing, Mahwah, NJ. “We've heard bits and pieces of what's included. We just have to take it as it comes.”

Beales' statement, given during a talk hosted by Washington law firm Collier Shannon Scott PLLC, reflected sentiments uttered by FTC chairman Timothy Muris when he spoke via satellite to an audience at the Direct Marketing Association's fall conference in San Francisco last month. However, some telemarketers misinterpreted Beales' comments to mean that a national DNC list will take effect by Christmas.

“He could have phrased it better,” said Matt Mattingley, legislative director at the American Teleservices Association. “We got a number of calls after his speech.”

However, telemarketers said they aren't changing their marketing or business plans in anticipation of the FTC's decision. Many teleservices agencies and their clients have been telemarketing for decades and are used to adapting to change, and all expect to have enough time to make needed adjustments after the FTC issues the rule.

“I'm not saying it's 20 years from now,” said Sandy Pernick, president of consulting agency Pernick & Associates, Chicago. “But it's not immediate. We have bigger fish to fry.”

The industry's next best guess for a national DNC release date is early November, Mattingley said. There is speculation that the FTC is waiting until after tomorrow's elections to issue a final rule, though why the agency might do so is unknown.

Though an FTC announcement on a no-call registry may be imminent, the ATA and DMA are focused on the other federal agency with plans for a national DNC list, the Federal Communications Commission. Public comments from industry members and representatives and consumers alike are due to the FCC no later than Nov. 22.

It's possible that the FTC is waiting until after the FCC's public comment period to issue a national no-call rule, said Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president for government affairs at the DMA. However, the FTC's reticence may be just another example of a regulatory body taking longer than expected to resolve an issue.

Few in the industry think that any debate at the FTC about major issues connected with the national no-call registry is responsible for the delay. In all likelihood, FTC staffers are taking their time working out the details of implementing a national DNC plan, Cerasale said.

“The basics are probably laid out,” he said. “But you have to dot the I's and cross the T's, especially if you're making a rule.”

No matter how late the date the FTC comes clean with its DNC plans, its goal of having a registry in place by the end of Q1 2003 could be delayed if the ATA carries out its promised legal challenge. The ATA pledged to fight the national no-call registry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if it considers the FTC's proposal unfair and is building a planned $1 million war chest to support the effort.

Such a court battle could drag out the wait for the national DNC list indefinitely. In any case, when an implementation date is set, telemarketers should have plenty of time, anywhere from two to six months, to prepare, Cerasale said. Until then, he said, “life goes on as usual.”

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