|Saturday, June 28, 2003|
Federal no-call list for telemarketers will launch today
By Chris Cobbs | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted June 27, 2003
Gene Bousquet, one of the millions of Americans whose dinner is often interrupted by telemarketers, has a slick way of fending off the callers.
"When I pick up the phone and hear their pitch, I ask what they are wearing and whether I can call them in the middle of the night," said Bousquet, 74, of Winter Garden.
Bousquet and fellow sufferers had reason to celebrate Thursday as the Federal Trade Commission said it will launch today a national do-not-call list to block unwanted sales calls, which may number more than 100 million daily.
To further assist beleaguered consumers, the Federal Communications Commission said it is stepping up protection against calls from airlines, banks and telephone companies.
"No longer will consumers be forced to endure unwanted telephone calls," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said.
However, some said they're not sure how well the do-not-call program will work.
"The jury is still out," said Terence McElroy, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which has operated a statewide do-not-call program since 1991.
"We don't know what kind of resources or enforcement powers the federal government will undertake."
The Florida program, the oldest of its kind in the nation, has enlisted about 175,000 consumers, who pay an initial fee of $10 and an annual renewal fee of $5.
"We don't know what the impact of the national program will be on us," said McElroy, adding that the state program has collected about $800,000 in civil penalties during the past 12 years.
Like McElroy, an Apopka engineer who regularly gets dinner-hour calls expressed reservations about the impact of the do-not-call policy.
"When I get a call, it's usually about refinancing our home," said Simmon Reed. "I tell them we just did that, and say thank you, thank you, and hang up."
Reed, 33, hopes the new federal policy will work but doesn't think it will slow telemarketers.
"Fines won't stop them," he said. "Somebody is going to have to go to jail to send a message."
Under the new regulations, telemarketers who make calls to people on the list after Oct. 1 could face penalties of up to $11,000.
"I subscribed to the state's list for two years but didn't renew because it wasn't effective," said Ida Cook, a University of Central Florida sociologist.
Although telemarketing calls are a fairly recent phenomenon, Americans have long been bombarded by unwanted intrusions and interruptions.
In fact, a French sociologist in the early 1900s wrote about "sensory overload" and how intrusions interrupted the normal flow of life.
"We certainly have more interruptions now than ever," Cook said. "These calls are pervasive enough to make people become jaded and just hang up, suggesting a kind of rudeness on the part of the caller and the person receiving the call."
What drives people to pick up the phone, even if they suspect it may be an unwanted call, is a hope it may be from a loved one or family member.
"Sometimes, we just let it ring, but that's not the way we were brought up," said Tom Springall, 67, a Dr. Phillips resident.
"You wonder if it's the kids calling, so you answer. When it's not, I just quickly hang up. Sometimes you can hear 'em still talking."
The FCC action drew a mixed response from telemarketing groups that have lobbied furiously against the list and filed lawsuits, which are pending, to block its implementation.
The Direct Marketing Association said telemarketing companies would have an easier time complying with one national list, rather than the dozens of state registries.
The American Teleservices Association said the FCC bowed to political pressure to impose unconstitutional restrictions on the industry and did not consider the 2 million telemarketers whose jobs will be put at risk.
Chris Cobbs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5447. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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