The Federal Trade Commission's plan to curb unsolicited telemarketing calls has run into a major roadblock: A key congressional committee chairman is opposing the agency's request for immediate funding to launch a national do-not-call list.
As a result, FTC officials said yesterday that the agency's goal of launching the anti-telemarketing registry by this summer may have to be delayed until next year.
Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote agency Chairman Timothy J. Muris late last month -- just a week after the anti-telemarketing registry was announced -- saying he intended to block the list's funding until his committee had "adequate opportunity to properly review and evaluate" the plan.
"We have absolutely no objections to the national do-not-call list, but we are not going to give the FTC carte blanche authority to move forward without a vigorous review of its proposal," Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said yesterday.
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), ranking minority member of the committee, also signed the letter, but was less vocal in his opposition yesterday.
The first opportunity to discuss the plan will come today when Muris is scheduled to brief Tauzin's committee about the agency's effort. The idea is to let consumers sign on to the list by dialing a toll-free number from their home telephone and then punching in some numbers, or by signing up through the Internet. Telemarketers who then call numbers on that list risk being fined up to $11,000 for each banned call.
The agency wants Congress to give it $16 million to start the registry in the catch-all funding bill that needs to be passed by the end of January to keep the U.S. government running. Ultimately, that money would be paid back from fees that telemarketers would be charged to gain access to the do-not-call list.
If Tauzin does block the request for initial funding, money for the do-not-call list would probably not be available until the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, and agency officials said it would take at least four months after that before the list could become operational.
Tauzin spokesman Johnson said that among the issues that need to be resolved is the role of the Federal Communications Commission, which is reviewing its telemarketing rules to see if the companies it regulates should be directed to comply with the FTC's do-not-call list. That decision is a critical one because the FCC has greater authority over telemarketers, including those in industries the FTC rules can't reach, such as credit-card companies and long-distance firms.
Johnson's comments were similar to those made by executives in the telemarketing industry who have opposed the national do-not-call list. "Clearly, the FTC is trying to rush through appropriations to fund the list," said G.M. "Matt" Mattingley Jr., director of government affairs for the American Teleservices Association. "The FCC needs to do its job" before the funding is approved, he said.