Telemarketing Forum: Some See Flaws In Automatic Registration

WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission outlined its plan yesterday to make registration for the proposed national do-not-call list completely automated, but telemarketers pointed out some flaws that could cast doubt on the integrity of the list.

The FTC's plan, which it discussed at a workshop on proposed changes to the Telemarketing Sales Rule, calls for the creation of a system whereby consumers call a toll-free number to register for the national DNC list. They would be greeted by an interactive-voice response system, a touch-tone system commonly used by call centers to reduce customer support calls to live agents.

The system would automatically detect consumer phone numbers and place them on the DNC list. FTC officials said that the agency had contacted 36 companies and asked whether such a system would be feasible and practical, and all responded in the affirmative.

In some regions, however, technical problems prevent the automatic detection of consumer phone numbers, the FTC said. One possible way around this problem would be to have consumers manually dial in their phone numbers, then have the IVR system call them back to confirm their registry to the DNC list.

However, industry supporters said the FTC's plan could not provide an entirely accurate list. Phone numbers of consumers who had not intended to register could eventually make their way onto the list, several said.

To detect consumer phone numbers, the IVR system would gather automated number identification or ANI data from the consumer's phone line. The FTC has already ruled that ANI data is insufficient for billing by pay-per-call or 900 numbers, which would call into question its usefulness for the DNC list, said Tyler Prochnow, state legislative counsel for the American Teleservices Association.

One way to make sure the list remains accurate would be to charge a small fee — as little as a dollar would suffice – for registration, telemarketers said. But privacy advocates at the meeting said they found the idea of consumers paying for the DNC list “offensive.”

Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president for legislative affairs with the Direct Marketing Association, said the DMA used address information to ensure the integrity of its Telephone Preference Service, a private DNC list its members are required to use. Others suggested using the U.S. Postal Service change of address list, but pointed out that addresses would be useless under the proposed system because the IVR system could not automatically detect consumer address information.

Industry representatives also argued against allowing third parties to register consumers to the DNC list. Some individuals and groups have offered to sign up consumers for state DNC lists in the past.

“You're opening up the potential for data corruption,” said Joe Sanscrainte, general counsel for Call Compliance Inc.

Prochnow recalled a case in Georgia in which power companies signed their customers up for the state's DNC list to cut them off from their competitors.

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