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FTC Pledges to Retain Numbers from the National Do-Not-Call Registry

Ellen Ryan, Project Manager and Counsel, Consumer Protection and Telemarketing Fraud

Telephone-number registration would be permanent under proposed legislation

Consumers who registered their telephone number with the National Do-Not-Call Registry may not have to worry about re-registering their phone number every five years under new legislation proposed in Congress that makes one-time registration permanent.

The national Registry was established in 2003 as a means of blocking annoying phone calls from for-profit telemarketers. Under the current law, consumers must re-register their phone numbers every five years to ensure that the list is up to date. This requirement allows the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which helps maintain the Registry, to periodically purge disconnected or reassigned numbers --- ensuring the accuracy of the Registry, which now contains more than 145 million phone numbers.

However, the FTC announced in October that it is not dropping any telephone numbers from the Registry in spite of the five-year requirement, pending final Congressional or agency action. Nearly 52 million numbers were scheduled to expire before September 30, 2008.


There are currently two bills responding to the federal Registry’s requirement for phone numbers to be re-registered. At separate House and Senate committee sessions on October 30, lawmakers approved legislation within the Committees that makes most of the phone numbers on the Registry permanent by eliminating the FTC’s five-year expiration date.

In the House, HR 3541, the “Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007,” would also require purges of disconnected or reassigned phone numbers by the FTC twice a month, as opposed to the once a month mechanism currently in place. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), cleared the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and is due to be sent to the full House for a vote. Doyle said his legislation would give millions of Americans “a little much-needed peace and quiet.”

In the Senate, S.2096, the “Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007,” cleared the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who sponsored the bill, said it would also establish a permanent registry extension and prevent consumers from having to re-register their phone numbers every five years. In addition, the legislation would remove the need for a costly education campaign reminding Americans to re-enroll their number on the Registry. The bill also heads to the full Senate for a vote.

History of Do-Not-Call

Since the late 1980s, several states began studying the problem of unwanted telemarketing calls and state legislatures responded to the increasing demand for privacy by enacting their own Do-Not-Call legislation. In 1991, Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), granting consumers certain rights to defend themselves against unwanted telemarketing calls through the company-specific no-call list. However, the company-specific list proved inadequate in protecting consumers because it left consumers entirely dependent on telemarketers to interpret the consumers’ request that they not be called again, and to comply with that request. The creation of No-Call databases empowered consumers to choose, in advance, whether they wanted to receive these contacts in their homes. It also required telemarketers to access the list so those numbers could be blocked from their dial-out programs. Before the creation of the national no-call registry, more than 20 states had a no-call registry.

On March 11, 2003, President Bush signed the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act into law. The law was passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate and passed in the U.S. House of Representatives with a 418-7 vote. This law made it illegal for telemarketers to call consumers with whom they do not have a prior business relationship. It also limited times of day when telemarketers could call, the use of auto-dialing technology and the area codes accessible to telemarketers. In addition, it enforced severe fines for calling numbers on the national Registry, and it required telemarketers to keep their own Do-Not-Call lists up-to-date with the national Registry.

Pursuant to its authority under TCPA and to comply with the new law, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), together with the FTC, established a national Do-Not-Call Registry in June of 2003. The FTC held numerous workshops, meetings and briefings to solicit feedback from interested parties and considered more than 64,000 public comments to determine the needs of the Registry. The Registry is nationwide in scope, applies to all telemarketers with the exception of certain non-profit organizations, and covers both interstate and intrastate telemarketing calls. It is managed and enforced by the FTC, the FCC and state law enforcement officials. Since 2003, about 30 states have merged their state Do-Not-Call information with the federal Registry.

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