Commentary > Wastler's Wanderings
Telemarketing nirvana? Not.
Did the court really kill a do-not-call panacea? Ah, not if you count the loopholes.
September 24, 2003: 2:18 PM EDT

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Rage! Rage against the death of the Do Not Call list! And shed bitter tears!

This was the list that was going to bring peace to homes across America. The list that President Bush said would help protect "family time." And now a federal court has stopped it dead in its tracks, declaring that the Federal Trade Commission overstepped its bounds.

It was going to be a telecom-quiet nirvana, folks. You would have signed onto the list and those pesky calls from the credit card companies, the fire-fighters union, time-share outfits, cable TV operators, the local Democratic council, and Omaha Steaks would have ceased after Oct. 1. Peace at last!

Well, not really.

Politicians already had carved out a loophole for themselves. Basically, Congress told the FTC: "You want money in the budget for setting up this list? Then you give us a pass." The FTC shrugged and said okay.

So you were still going to get the local Democratic council calling, even if you are a Republican.

But you can still be outraged! Because all those other calls would have ended!

Well, not all of them.

Charities were exempted from the Do Not Call list as well. I mean, hey, they are charities right? They gotta ask for money, that's what they do. So they interrupt your dinner. Get a grip, Ebeneezer.

Okay, so politicians and charities would call. But all those other outfits, they would have stopped calling right?! The court really mucked that one up!

Well, not really.

The list would have also exempted companies with which you have an "established business relationship." So if you buy something from a particular outfit, they have a ticket to call you for 18 months. Pay a bill? Same thing.

So you'd still be talking to your cable TV company about what's coming up on HBO that is must-see TV and hearing from your phone company about their latest calling plan. (Here's irony: An AT&T unit was hired by the government to set up the list as well). No doubt Visa would give you a courtesy call to let you know they upped your credit limit.

And the professional telemarketing types were taking crowbars to the definition of "established business relationship."

Call up a company to ask a question? Hey, you established a business relationship, so you must want to hear from them all the time! Don't read all the fine print before you click on a Net shopping site? That's a shame, because the fine print probably said "Yes, I want to be called day and night."

Wastler's Wanderings
'Do Not Call'

Oh yeah, and telemarketers were revving up a truck to drive through another loophole as well. "Telephone surveys" were exempted from the list. So you could have expected a lot of "Hi, I'm taking a poll to see if you breathe oxygen. You do? Then you'll just love the air at our time-share resort ..."

Okay, so we still would have gotten calls from politicians, charities, our phone company, our cable company, our credit card companies, anybody we bought something from, any business we contacted, and people posing as market researchers who really just want to sell us something.

But all the others would have stopped.

Dang that court.  Top of page

Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of CNN/Money and a commentator on CNNfn.

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