The Federal Trade Commission announced a proposal today that consumers who are tired of telemarketing calls could include their names on a national ?Do not call? list." Under the FTC's proposal, it would be illegal for telemarketers to call consumers who place their phone number on the national registry," said Howard Beales, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. Telemarketing companies that violate the new rules would be subject to $11,000 fines per violation

The FTC said it would seek to modify the existing Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) so that consumers could put their phone numbers on such a list by calling an automated toll-free number. Telemarketers would be required to check the list monthly and ensure that they do not call those numbers.

Under current federal law, telemarketers must not make calls before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. and honor the consumers? requests not to call back. However, the FTC?s new regulation would prevent the call in the first place. Additionally, telemarketers would be prohibited from subverting caller-ID systems or sharing credit card numbers and other billing information; a practice the FTC said could lead to fraud.

The Commission is also proposing changes to the TSR mandated by the recently enacted USA PATRIOT Act. Prompted by the events of September 11, this legislation, among other things, directs the Commission to expand the TSR to cover calls made to solicit charitable contributions. (Currently the TSR covers only calls made to sell goods and services). This would allow the FTC to act against for-profit companies that engage in fraudulent, deceptive, or abusive practices when they solicit charitable contributions on behalf of charities or purported charities.

Outside of the FTC jurisdiction are political groups and nonprofits or industries like banking and telecommunications, which falls under FCC rules. Also excluded from the rule are intrastate telemarketing calls.

So what is wrong with these new proposed rules?

A lobbyist of the Direct Marketing Association, a trade group that includes telemarketers, was quoted as saying, ?The rule would infringe on free-speech rights and impose a heavy burden on telemarketers.? Telemarketers are said to create over 6 million jobs and $668 billion in sales nationwide.

?I?d say we would not support it the way it is right now,? said Jerry Cerasale, DMA senior vice president for governmental affairs.

The new rule, which doesn?t appear to need any legislative action to be enacted, will not likely take effect for at least a year while the FTC takes comments from consumers and organizations.

The FTC will accept comments that are submitted to the following e-mail address by March 29, 2002: tsr@ftc.gov, if the information is organized in sequentially numbered paragraphs. All written comments and electronic submissions should be identified as "Telemarketing Rulemaking - Comment. FTC File No. R411001."