FTC’s donotcall.gov Site Overwhelmed

Instead of hanging up or slinging visceral insults at telemarketers, consumers now have a way out from the deluge of dinner-time calls pawning everything from lower mortgage rates to credit card offers.

The Bush Administration, in association with the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, announced on Friday of the launch of DONOTCALL.GOV, also known as the Do Not Call Registry.

But as of press time there are signs that the government’s new DONOTCALL.GOV Web site is not processing the thousands of attempted registrations due to load-balancing issues on their servers.

“There are a lot of people trying to do this online. We are aware of problems. But it is working. We just ask people to be patient. They have until Aug. 31 to register. They are not going to see instantaneous results,” according to a FTC spokesperson.

A spokesperson for the FTC said at 12 PM EST on Friday there have been 370,000 confirmed phone and online registrations, up from 250,000 at 10:30 AM, just two hours after the DONOTCALL.GOV site went live.

“There was an onslaught. A huge number of people all decided to register at the same time. Even in our worst-case scenario, there is a lot more traffic than we expected and we are adding more servers to alleviate the congestion,” the FTC spokesperson said.

The FTC spokesperson adding there is “a backlog of email confirmations that will be sent in the next few hours.”

Beyond any short-term web site operations issues, the bigger issue is what impact the telemarketing industry and how will the new federal rules be implemented.

“This is a really big policy initiative, but as with all policies, the devil is in the details. I mean specifically how are they going to manage this list and another big challenge is all the different state regulating telemarketing standards, which are different from this new federal statute,” Char Pagar, partner in the law firm of Hall, Dickler, Kent, Goldstein and Wood, which represents many companies in the advertising and marketing industries.

It is far from clear how the federal and state statutes for telemarketing will be reconciled.

“For all these telemarketing companies this new rule presents a bunch of new challenges, including figuring how the state and federal rules will interact,” Pagar says.

“The federal rule uses an 18-month standard for prior business relationships, but there are a number of states that use a different time standard, which complicates compliance analysis,” added Pagar.

“The challenge is that there are some states that say they will be going along with the new national standards, but other states continue to apply there own standards,” says Pagar.

The new government telemarketing blocking site allows consumers to register, either by calling a toll-free number, or going through an online registration process at the site.

After several unsuccessful attempts, between 10:30-11:00 AM EST, this reporter was able to successfully enter the national registry greeted with the message: “You have submitted your phone number(s) for registration in the National Do Not Call Registry. You should receive 2 emails from Register@donotcall.gov within a few minutes. Open each email and click on the link provided to complete your registration. Important: If you do not click on the link in each email within 72 hours, your phone number will not be registered. This browser window does not need to remain open to complete the registration process.”

“If consumers register by phone, they must call from the number they want to register. If consumers register online, they must provide an email address. After registering online, consumers will receive an email and need to click on a link in the email within 72 hours to complete online registration. E-mail addresses on the registry will not be shared with anyone. Registration lasts for five years, until a number is disconnected, or until the consumer takes it off the registry,” the government agencies said in a joint press release.

On the privacy side for consumers that do decide to enter the registry, the government promises privacy they are saying the email addresses will not be shared with anyone, says Pagar.

An interesting twist on the government’s new telemarketing crackdown is that certain types of calls will still be permitted.

“Some calls, however, such as those from political organizations, solicitation calls on behalf of charities, and calls to conduct surveys, are not covered by the National Registry requirements. Consumers who sign up for the registry may still receive these calls,” the release said.

Under the new policy, telemarketers who call a consumer’s home number on the list “could be fined up to $11,000 per call.” The government has also added a toll-free number for consumers to complain about any company that does call, after their name is established in the national call blocking registry. If telemarketers harass consumers after these measures have been taken, then lawsuits could be filed by individual consumers and state attorneys general.

“This is going to have a big impact on telemarketers who make outbound calls, because if they don’t have an existing relationship and the consumer’s number is on the national list, then they won’t be able to call those consumers. My biggest concern is the impact on non-established, small, or new market companies, which now are losing an important channel for them to reach new consumers,” Pagar said.

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA), put out a press release to express its support for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to create a universal do-not-call registry that will include all state lists for interstate calls and “will correct some of the problems attendant to the FTC’s no-call program.”

“Today’s announcement effectively creates a one-stop-shop do-not-call list that can be fairly applied across all industries and make it easy for consumers and marketers alike to use the no-call list. The FCC is creating, in effect, a common standard for all telephone marketing in the U.S.” the DMA said.

FTC officials have said they expect 60 million households to sign up for the new Do Not Call National Registry, which prompted it to offer telephone registration on a geographic basis to avoid overloading the system. It seems there wasn’t the same planning for their web site operations.

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