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Will the FTC begin looking at do-not-mail legislation?

CRYSTAL CITY, VA – Attendees at the American Teleservices Association’s 2007 Washington Summit raised the question of whether the Federal Trade Commission may look into regulating other forms of marketing after a speech made by FTC Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch.

Tim Searcy, ATA’s CEO, asked him whether the FTC’s perception of the industry has changed at all since the launching of the DNC registry.

“I think it has, at least my perception has,” Mr. Rosch said. “I am a strong believer in competition. So we need to take a real hard look at the rules that are applicable to the alternatives of telemarketing. I am talking about mail order and also sales over the Internet.

“I think there is a strong case to be made that some of the rules of the game can apply under the Telemarketing Sales Rule to your industry should also apply equally to marketing that is done by other media,” he aid. “So over the course of the next few years, I expect to take a very close look at the regulations that apply to you folks and determine why they don’t apply to alternative forms of marketing. And if I think they do apply, I will strongly encourage my colleagues to do something about that.”

Mr. Roesh also discussed issues he thinks the FTC will be focusing on in the near future. For example, the agency would be tracking the development of Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP, and other technologies that allow the falsification of caller ID.

“Nothing irks me more than when I go to the phone and I see an ID in our caller ID and yet it turns out it was not the caller that I expected it to be,” he said. “In large measure, I think that is going to increase in the current years because of the development of new technology. We are going to have to try and scramble and gear ahead of the technology curve in this and many other areas.”

Mr. Rosch said the FTC’s biggest challenge going forward is reminding members that after a five-year period they have to “re-up” on the do-not-call registry.

Indeed, the first round of registrants who signed up in 2003 will need to apply again if they want to remain on the registry. The first round of registration expires in the summer of 2008.

“We do have a component of the Bureau of Consumer Protection that is involved in consumer education, and they are at work right now on a program that makes sure that that happens,” he said.

Mr. Searcy also asked Mr. Rosch whether he could point to any model self-regulation programs that it could turn to as it creates it own. While Mr. Rosch warned that associations should not take a cookie-cutter approach, he mentioned several hallmarks that should be included in any self-regulatory program.

They include clear guidelines, good internal-compliance mechanisms and an independent-auditing function.

Mr. Searcy asked Mr. Rosch whether there were any current teleservices legislation that might be passed in the near future. Mr. Rocks said that Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has introduced a bill that bans all calls during the dinner hour.

“How he would define that I don’t know,” he said.

He mentioned a couple of bills that extend the DNC to political calls, although he was unsure how those bills would move.

Another bill that is interesting, Mr. Rosch said, is one that enhances the maximum penalties that may be applicable for violation of the Telemarketing Sales Rule when it involves targeting seniors.

“I think that seniors are viewed as a very vulnerable group … and an important group, and obviously one that is growing in numbers,” he said.

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