The growth of telemarketing is one of the great business success stories of the 1980s. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods and services are sold and funds are raised annually by telephone.
With success, though, have come many problems. The Direct Marketing Association has worked diligently to develop a series of guidelines designed to reduce the nuisance factor of telemarketing. And we have worked with federal, state and local officials to combat fraud and misleading advertising and develop sound regulations to control some of the more serious problems in the use of the telephone for marketing.Thus, we agree that some regulations are needed.
DMA has worked closely during the past year with Rep. Edward Markey's staff and the staffs of other subcommittees in the House and Senate on a number of bills to regulate telemarketing. We support legislation requiring telephone companies to offer per-line blocking for consumers calling 900 numbers and requiring a preamble describing the nature and cost of a 900 number call before a consumer is charged.
DMA has helped draft and supports legislation to restrict the use of devices that automatically dial numbers and use recorded messages programs.
Rep. Markey's bill (H.R. 1304) would forbid calling emergency numbers and paging devices, require rapid disconnection when a consumer hangs up the phone, and require that telemarketers state their identity at the beginning of the recorded message and give a telephone number at which the caller can be reached. The bill also restricts the use of fax machines for unsolicited marketing.
We support these provisions.
However, we have difficulty with a segment of the bill added at virtually the last minute. It requires the Federal Communications Commission to establish a national data base of people who do not want to receive unsolicited calls.
No business would be allowed to make an unsolicited commercial call unless it ran its lists against the FCC list. Also, the bill exempts calls from nonprofit or political organizations, businesses with established relationships, survey research, and business-to-business calls.
There is no evidence, though, that these calls are any less intrusive than pure "commercial" calls.
In place of this proposal, we would make three suggestions, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
First, amend the bill to require that the FCC conduct a major study into the whole issue of unsolicited telephone calls, without restriction to content, and make recommendations as to the appropriate level of regulation.
Second, amend the bill to require that all telemarketers making unsolicited calls have in place procedures to give an opportunity for those who they call to be removed from their lists. There should be no exemptions.
Third, aggressively expand self-regulatory efforts. DMA has already committed itself to promote even more strongly its Telephone Preference Service to help people get off national lists.
In the meantime, if you want our help in removing you from national telemarketing lists write: Telephone Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, 11 West 42nd Street, P.O. Box 3861, New York, NY 10163-3861.
(Richard A. Barton is senior vice president for government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association.)