UPDATE: Telemarketing Bills on Track in Slow Motion

Time is running out on two bills designed to restrict telemarketing.

A subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee held initial hearings on H.R. 3180 and H.R. 3100 this week, but the bills do not appear to be on a fast track to passage, according to Richard Barton, senior vice president of congressional relations at the Direct Marketing Association.

“It's not that [the bills] don't have a whole lot of support,” he said. “It's just that there are a lot of details that have to be worked out.”

Barton also said the subcommittee on telecommunications, trade and consumer protection left the record on the bills open for 30 days to allow for additional material and questions. It did not schedule the bill for mark-up.

“Almost everybody would have to get together and agree to it in order for it to move fast,” he said.

H.R. 3180, known as the Telemarketing Victims Protection Act or the Dinner Time Calling Bill, would ban telemarketing calls to residential numbers between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. It also would require telemarketers to notify consumers of their right to be placed on the DMA's Telephone Preference Service, which contains the phone numbers of consumers who have asked not to be called by telemarketers. All DMA members are required to eliminate those numbers from their telemarketing lists.

If the consumer agreed to be placed on the list, the telemarketer would be required to notify the DMA or a state-run, do-not-call list, whichever the consumer preferred.

Under additional terms of the bill, telemarketers would not be allowed to prevent consumers' caller-ID systems from displaying the identity and phone number of the caller. H.R. 3100, the Know Your Caller Bill, contains the same provision.

Barton submitted written testimony to the subcommittee on behalf of the DMA, opposing H.R. 3180. He testified that notifying consumers about the TPS — and then transferring that information to either the DMA or individual state agencies — could be too costly to implement.

The Federal Trade Commission, which is reviewing the Telemarketing Sales Rule, agreed.

“Legislation should encourage self-regulatory initiatives like the DMA's do-not-call list, but not impose additional burdens on [telemarketers],” said Eileen Harrington of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Barton said the DMA opposed the dinnertime calling restrictions, saying that telemarketers already have sufficient restrictions on their hours of operation.

Steve Brubaker of InfoCision Management Corp., testifying on behalf of the American Teleservices Association, told the subcommittee that the dinnertime calling restrictions would not decrease the volume of telemarketing calls. He said the law would give free reign to the telemarketing organizations — such as charities and political groups — that would be exempt from the law.

On the matter of blocking caller-ID, Barton said technological obstacles prevent call centers from displaying their numbers to caller-ID systems. Although some of those obstacles are related to the technology used by call centers, others are out of the telemarketers' control, including phone switches used by long-distance companies.

Brubaker asked that the proposed legislation be worded so that it deals only with telemarketers that actively seek to block their identities from consumers.

Also, Brubaker was reportedly grilled by Democratic legislators outside the hearing regarding a campaign that InfoCision conducted on behalf of Republicans. Several Democratic legislators questioned whether the campaign was ethical because it offered physicians the opportunity to join a medical advisory board in exchange for a donation that would be used to support Republican candidates.

A spokesman for InfoCision, Akron, OH, did not return calls seeking comment.

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