WASHINGTON – The government will begin within days building a national do-not-call list intended to help people block unwanted telemarketing calls, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy Muris said Friday.
Money for the project was approved when President Bush signed a $397.4 billion government-wide spending bill Thursday.
Consumers can start signing up for the free service this summer, Muris said, and the registry should be working by September.
"By fall, consumers should begin to notice fewer unwanted telemarketing calls," he said. "The FTC can now respond to consumers' pleas to end unwanted telephone intrusions into their homes."
The FTC probably will choose a contractor early next week to build computer systems for the registry, said agency spokeswoman Cathy MacFarlane.
As planned, people could enroll in the do-not-call registry through the Internet or a toll-free number. They would need to renew their registration every five years.
Telemarketers would have to check the list every three months to determine who does not want to be called. Those who call listed people could be fined up to $11,000 for each violation. Consumers would be able to file complaints by phone or online to an automated system.
Telemarketers say the registry will devastate their industry, endanger millions of jobs and send ripples through the economy. The Direct Marketing Association, an industry group, sued the FTC last month on grounds the registry amounts to an unlawful restriction on free speech.
The registry will be financed by fees collected from telemarketers and cost about $16 million in its first year.
There are exceptions to the FTC's do-not-call protections.
A company may call someone on the list if that person has bought, leased or rented from the company within the past 18 months. Telemarketers also can call people if they have inquired or applied for something from the company during the past three months.
Charities, surveys and calls on behalf of politicians also are exempt.
The FTC also has limited authority to police telemarketing calls from certain industries, including airlines, banks and telephone companies. The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees calls made by those industries, has been working with the FTC and is considering whether to add its clout to the program.
More than two dozen states already have their own do-not-call lists or legislation pending that would create them. The FTC says most states plan to add their lists to the national registry.