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Judge zaps national ‘do-not-call’ list

OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal judge has ruled that the Federal Trade Commission overstepped its authority in creating the national “do-not-call” list against telemarketers.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by telemarketers who challenged the list of 50.6 million telephone numbers of Americans fed up with business solicitors ringing their home phones.

The immediate impact of Tuesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee R. West was not clear. He did not issue an order directing an action by the FTC. The list was to go into effect Oct. 1.

Pennsylvania’s do-not-call list won’t be affected by the federal court ruling, said Barb Petito, spokeswoman for Attorney General Mike Fisher. The state will continue enforcing its program to block solicitations by telemarketers, she said.

The issue in the federal case was whether the FTC has statutory authority to run a do-not-call list. Pennsylvania clearly has a state law — enacted in 2002 — that provides authority to run such a program, Petito said.

About 3.1 million Pennsylvanians have signed up for the state’s do-not-call list. About 872,000 Pennsylvanians had registered for the federal program, but state officials say there is no need to be on the national list if one is already on the state register.

While there may be some overlap of consumers who signed up for both lists, Petito said the attorney general urges those on the national list to register on the Pennsylvania list at www.nocallsplease.com or by calling (888) 777-3406.

State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, chairman of the Senate Communications and Technology Committee, said, “The Pennsylvania ‘Do Not Call’ program is alive and well, and we are seeing companies being punished for calling residents who have listed their numbers. This federal ruling does not in any way affect how we do business in Pennsylvania.”

West said the main issue in the case is “whether the FTC had the authority to promulgate a national do-not-call registry. The court finds it did not.”

The judge said the 1994 Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act gave the Federal Communications Commission, not the FTC, the authority to operate a national database of people who object to receiving telephone solicitations.

The FTC, however, said the Omnibus Appropriations Act, signed by President Bush in February, authorizes it to “implement and enforce the do-not-call provisions of the Telemarketing Sales Rule.”

“This decision is clearly incorrect,” FTC chairman Timothy Muris said yesterday. “We will seek every recourse to give American consumers a choice to stop unwanted telemarketing calls.”

Direct Marketing Association, one of the plaintiffs, said it was happy with the ruling, even though it “acknowledges the wishes of millions of U.S. consumers who have expressed their preferences not to receive telephone-marketing solicitations — as evidenced by the millions of phone numbers registered on the FTC list.”

The telemarketing industry estimates the do-not-call list could cut its business in half, costing it up to $50 billion in sales each year. Telemarketers would have to check the list every three months to see who doesn’t want to be called. Those who call listed people could be fined up to $11,000 for each violation.

The lawsuit was filed by U.S. Security, Chartered Benefit Services Inc., Global Contact Services Inc., InfoCision Management Corp. and Direct Marketing Association Inc.

U.S. Security is based in Oklahoma City.


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