WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday said it would reassess its rules for telemarketers, bolstering an effort to help consumers avoid telephone sales calls at home.
FCC officials said growing consumer frustration had prompted them to consider whether the agency should throw its weight behind a proposed "do not call" list, which would enable consumers to prevent telemarketers from calling them.
The do-not-call list, currently being developed by the Federal Trade Commission, will likely take effect next year.
FCC support would mean that banks and telecommunications companies, two of the biggest telemarketers, would be required to comply along with other businesses.
The FCC said it would seek public input for 60 days before determining whether to go ahead, but several commissioners said they were inclined to support the proposal.
"Unrestricted telemarketing has gone beyond being a nuisance and has become in many instances an invasion of privacy," said Commissioner Michael Copps.
"I reach my limit at about the sixth call when I get home every evening," said Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy.
Current regulations, drafted by the FCC in 1992, prohibit telemarketers from calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., and require them to honor consumer requests not to be called back.
Since then, the industry has thrived thanks to new technologies like automatic dialers, which allow sales representatives to reach many more customers. Telemarketers now place 104 million calls each day and take in $278 billion annually, according to FCC and industry sources.
NEW TECHNOLOGIES PROMPT COMPLAINTS
The dramatic rise in sales calls has prompted a groundswell of complaints over the past several years, FCC officials said.
"I think what you've seen is an explosion since we last saw this issue," FCC Chairman C. Michael Powell said, noting that consumer increasingly view telemarketing as an invasion of privacy.
In recent years, several states and an industry groups have created do-not-call lists. The FTC is expected to complete its work on a national list by the end of the year.
Under the FTC proposal, consumers would call an automated toll-free number to get on the list. Telemarketers would be required to check the list monthly and pay up to $3,000 to cover operating costs.
Companies that did not comply would face fines of up to $11,000 per count. Political, religious and nonprofit calls would be exempt.
The FCC will also review its rules on telemarketing technologies such as automatic dialers, recorded messages and junk faxes, officials said.
A privacy advocate said it was high time the FCC reconsidered its stance on telemarketing, and suggested that the agency had been shamed into action by the FTC.
"It sounds as if the commissioners are among the 99.999 percent of Americans who loathe telemarketing," said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., a consumer-advocacy group.
"For years the FCC has sided too much with telephone companies and telemarketers, and it's about time that they realize consumer and privacy interests should be respected," he added.
Officials at both agencies denied that the consumer-protection agency pressured the FCC to act. The two agencies have always worked closely together and would try to make their rules compatible so consumers and telemarketers would not face a bewildering array of regulations, they said.