The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission said he hopes to eliminate 80 percent of unwanted telemarketing calls under his agency's plan to set up a national do-not-call registry.
In announcing details of the registry proposal yesterday, Timothy J. Muris said most calls would be blocked -- even if they were made on behalf of banks, insurance companies or long-distance companies, industries that the FTC does not regulate. He explained that most of the exempt industries rely on outside telemarketing companies to make telephone solicitations, and those firms would be subject to the rules.
The agency expects about 60 million Americans to sign up for the registry, either over the Internet or by calling a toll-free number from their home. At least a dozen investigators would be assigned to examine complaints submitted by consumers on another toll-free number. The FTC could fine telemarketers up to $11,000 for each banned call.
Calls from charities and politicians are exempt from the ban, as are telemarketers conducting surveys or market research, and any firm that has an "existing business relationship" with a consumer -- unless the consumer specifically requests that the company not call.
"Help is on its way," Muris said, though he cautioned consumers to "be patient for just a few more months" until the registry is put into operation. The agency needs to convince Congress to charge telemarketers annual fees to pay for the $16 million a year program.
Telemarketing industry officials started lobbying against the registry yesterday, citing the role the industry plays in the economy; last year about 4 percent of consumer sales -- more than $275 billion -- were made by telemarketers. The registry "could have a negative impact" on the industry and thus further weaken the economy, said G.M. "Matt" Mattingley Jr., director of government affairs at the American Teleservices Association.
In the past, telemarketers have said a do-not-call registry would violate their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Muris said he doesn't view the registry as barring telemarketing sales. "It gives consumers the option to protect privacy in their own home and gives people the right to object if they want to," he said.