Should Do Not Call List Registrations Last Forever?

Powerful Members of Congress are backing measures that would prevent Do Not Call registrations from expiring. Though the list has proven wildly popular, covering 150 million numbers in a country of 300 million, the FTC currently expires listings after five years to ostensibly account for people who move or change their number. Proposals to make registrations permanent have already won over the editorial board of the Asheville Citizen-Times:

The popularity of the list confirms that few people want to have their dinner or other personal time interrupted to deal with a telemarketer intent on selling something. The argument that people can just not answer the phone doesn’t work for everyone. Those with loved ones overseas or with family members who need special care are usually unwilling to risk missing a call that might bring critical or time-sensitive information.

The FTC insists that re-registering is incredibly easy to do and no doubt that’s true, but it’s beside the point. Many people simply won’t remember to do it and will be rudely jarred into logging on to the Web site or calling the toll-free number to add their numbers back to the list by getting a barrage of unwanted calls.

The companion proposals have heavyweight support. Rep. Michael Doyle (D-PA), Vice-Chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, is sponsoring the House version, H.R. 3541. On the Senate side, S. 2096 won over the notoriously curmudgeonly Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member, Ted Stevens (R-AK).

We support permanent Do Not Call listings even though they fall short of our ideal: telemarketing should be limited to those who explicitly opt-in.

Registration on Do Not Call list should be permanent [Asheville Citizen-Times]
S. 2096 [GovTrack]
H.R. 3541 [GovTrack]
Write Your Senator
Write Your Representative
PREVIOUSLY: How To Write To Congress
Mark Your Calendars: Do Not Call List Numbers Start Expiring In June 2008
(AP Photo/Wally Santana)

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  1. alhypo says:

    I love the do not call list, but I don’t really mind if the numbers eventually expire since it is no big hassle to get back on the list. If this is only concession we give to the telemarketing industry, I think we’re doing pretty good. This is one of the few pieces of legislation that actually seems to work for the most part.

  2. castlecraver says:

    Why are we opted-in by default unless we ask to be placed on a list? Why not a “do call list”?

  3. DadCooks says:

    @castlecraver: You got it right–default should be “do not call”!

    IMHO, the “Do Not Call” list does not go far enough in many ways.

    First, and formost, it should be permanent–and, it should include everything — no more surveys, politicians, “non-profits” or “charities” and no companies that think they have a “business relationship” with you.

  4. faust1200 says:

    From a pragmatic standpoint I can see why entries aren’t permanent. However it would be nice to receive a reminder via email that the number was going to expire. You do need to enter email to submit a number electronically.

  5. Lordstrom says:

    Opt-in my ass, the entire thing should be illegal. There is no legitimate basis for allowing companies to interrupt and harrass random private homes to sell their products. None. Ban it.

  6. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    Yes, this should be permanent. Too bad for the companies who try to make money by calling me. I’m not interested.

  7. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    Well, when they call my house,

    Me: Hello?
    Telemarketer: Good afternoon, sir, I’m — from ——
    Me: *Click*

  8. Trai_Dep says:

    Yeah, but multiply your leaving the table, listening, hanging up, returning to the table and working the conversation past the interruption. Multiplied by 105m households. Times a dollar/hr amount that the average household earns.

    That’s the amount of money that telemarketers are stealing from us. And it’s a very large number. It’s theft. It’s just impractical to recover this amount. And opt-in DNC list (as they have in Europe) would be the optimum way to stop this thievery. What we have now (and continuing it until someone actively removes themselves from the list) is the next best option.

  9. FLConsumer says:

    My big issue with telephone/fax/e-mail spam is that I’M PAYING for a service and they’re taking advantage of it. I see it as theft of service, since they’re costing me money (esp with the scummy telemarketer who kept calling my cell). If someone uses my WiFi without my consent, they can be prosecuted for theft of service, why can’t the same be done against telemarkets, et al?

  10. kingoman says:

    I’m no apologist for telemarketers, but if you make the Do Not Call list permanent, you might as well just outlaw telemarketing now (I know, I can year the cries of joy… and not something I’d be opposed to, but it’s a completely separate topic).

    With a permanent DNC list, eventually all numbers will be on the list and will never expire. This is just not practical (or particularly useful). This will also cause the unpleasant phenomenon that when a new area code is created, the telemarketers will go absolutely ape sh*t calling every number in the new area code because none of them will be on the list and they’ll have no other valid numbers they could be calling instead.

    The right way to do this is for the phone companies to notify the DNC list administrators once a quarter (or even year) and give them all numbers that have been recycled. The DNC should cross check that against *new* registrations for the same period and remove all except those that were re-registered (presumably by the new owner).

    This is not a hard problem. But Congress can make anything hard.

  11. EtherealStrife says:

    Just ban telemarketing. Period. Way easier than getting up to put them on hold indefinitely. Not as fun though. Mmmm now I’m getting nostalgic for the pre-DNCL days.

  12. Trai_Dep says:

    @kingoman: “With a permanent DNC list, eventually all numbers will be on the list and will never expire. This is just not practical.”

    Not practical for whom?

    For those interested in strangers calling selling them things they don’t need, there’s an option. For others, there’s one as well. Everyone’s happy. Except the strangers trying to sell things to people that they don’t need. Boo hoo.

  13. mantari says:

    So… anything stopping the telemarketing firms from compiling a list of entries that have dropped off of the do not call registry?

  14. InThrees says:

    Why not just allow a preference for “never expire” vs “expire in 3 (or so) years”?

    Revamp the system so it tracks this information, let the current registrations expire like planned, but notify the number owner that is indeed about to expire and explain they can sign up again and the expiraton date to ‘never’ or some arbitrary amount of time.

    The only problem I see with ‘never expire’ is that we are not going to own these numbers forever, so ‘never expire’ should be more like ’10 years’, or there needs to be some check system in place to periodically determine if numbers in the registry have switched hands.

  15. cuiusquemodi says:

    I hate telemarketing as much as the next person, but that dislike doesn’t override the First Amendment (even if you argue that commerical speech has limited protection). An out and out ban on telemarketing, or even a making permanent of registration on the Do Not Call list, might run afoul of the constitution.

    @trai_dep: Strictly speaking, not really. If your income was the same every hour of the day, that would be true. However, your hourly marginal income at dinner time is probably less than while you’re at the office. An annoyance, yes, but not one that translate directly into an economic loss, or theft, as you so casually put it.

    After all, if someone saw me on the street and tried to sell me something, would I send them a bill for the time lost? Just sign up for the list, set an event in your calendar 4 years and 11 months from today, and be done with it. This statement doesn’t apply to firms who violate the DNC list, in which case, feel free to sue them to the fullest extent of the law (I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice).

  16. moorie679 says:

    Well if there is this much opposition to this type of system, how the hell do these companies make money off it? thats the thing I do not understand. It sure costs them money to send this junk our way… means some moron with a phone and email address is hogging all the Viagra pills, free porn and political polls.

  17. Lordstrom says:

    There is absolutely no constitutional right for anyone to disturb your private residence in favor of speech.

    All these ideas and systems and whatever sound like wasteful bureaucracies. Just ban the damn practice and dismantle the service.

    In fact, I’d like to see states start a referendum on outlawing telemarketing. Let the people decide. I don’t think anyone would be surprised by the results.

  18. InThrees says:

    More people would get jobs as door to door salesmen, I bet.

    But seriously, I’m trying to think of a downside to
    “telemarketing banned” and I’m coming up blank. Who telemarkets? When is the last time a reputable firm called you up and pitched you?

    Oh that’s right, they don’t have to, they’re reputable.

  19. Jeff says:

    I have helped raise funds for many organizations. I’m proud of what I do. I have helped organizations fight disease, victims get advocates, addicts get help, I’ve helped our young men and women in our military academies become the best of the best.

    So I am one of those people who call on behalf of nonprofits. If I call you, there is a reason, you have come to the attention of an organization that wants your help, usually by being a part of it or giving before.

    And there is a reason we do it this way, it works. Non-profits spend most of their energy fighting apathy, and getting in touch with people is one of their biggest goals. Keeping, getting them involved, interested, getting their goals and results out there so people get a chance to respond and help, or not.

    There are people out there who would help, if you caught their attention, it is one of the things I am proud of about America, we are a very philanthropic nation. But getting their attention is necessary, and mail and internet just don’t cut it. Contact must be personal and reasonable. Sure there is a ‘salesman’ aspect of that, but thats true of anything where you’re trying to get someone to care, weather it is a argument with your spouse or child, or a preacher and a congregation.

    But most of the nonprofits are not trying to be unreasonable or malicious about it. Many, like me, have codes of ethics we follow: [www.afpnet.org]

    However, we are trying first and formost to contact people. Since a few of the other commenters are proud of various tricks they use, I’d like to point out that ending a call without identifying yourself (hanging up when they ask for you, pretending to be your own babysitter, saying that you’re out of town, giving the phone to a child, saying you’re not there after finding out who is calling) is just going to get you called again.

    If you want to stop the calling attempts, say you are who you are, say you’re not interested, and if you want hang up then. If they call again, say you are who you are, and immediately ask for a supervisor. If you’re getting called on behalf of an annual giving thing, fund/membership/whatever, and want to stop, tell them specificly to put you on the don’t call (or solicit) list (since the national one this article is about doesn’t apply to non-profits). If they have any ethical standards at all, you should be able to cut down on some of the calls.

  20. Steel_Pelican says:

    One more reason to go cell-only.

    The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 forbids telemarketers from calling a cell phone.

  21. selianth says:

    @Steel_Pelican: My cell number used to be my landline, and every once in a while I still get calls from surveys, non-profits, and the companies that are “allowed” to call me. As soon as I mention that the number is now a cell phone number, they are VERY apologetic and usually get off the phone as soon as possible (some even hang up on ME.) It’s satisfying but still annoying that I get the calls in the first place.

  22. Re: numbers staying on the list forever and ever and ever:

    I read in an article about this that there’s already a system in place for purging the numbers of people who move, die, or change numbers and that it’s pretty efficient, so the telemarketing companies’ complaints that “all” numbers will eventually be inaccessible is bunk.

    Can you verify, Consumerist?

  23. Trai_Dep says:

    @Steel_Pelican: except for the robo-call telesales guys that call your cellie…

  24. kingoman says:

    “Free Speech” is a red herring that the telemarketers have been very good at throwing around. “Free Speech” means you can stand on a street corner and say your peace and the government can’t put you in jail for the content. It does NOT mean you can call my home and disturb my peace and privacy against my wishes. Telemarketing has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with free speech. Any telemarketer advocate who says it does needs to buy a copy of the Constitution and re-read it — that is if W hasn’t had them all burned by now.

  25. mammalpants says:

    permanent! and i should be able to change that setting whenever i want. period.

  26. Xerloq says:

    I hate telemarketing. I use white-lists through my DNCL’ed Grand Central number. Problem solved.

    Other arguments aside, I’d like to see a feature like an inbound toll call service. A call comes in, and if it’s not on a white list, the caller hears a message like this: “You have reached a screening service. If you accept a $2.99 per minute charge, you may press 1 to continue attempting to reach your party.”

    If they pay me to listen to the message, I’ll draw the call out as long as I can.

  27. alicetheowl says:

    Whoa. A mention of Asheville . . . and it’s a positive one?

    I do hope the article link text isn’t supposed to have anything to do with Asheville, though. It’s a couple hundred miles to any swampland ’round these parts.

    But, yes, there are smart people who live and work here. Glad one of ‘em got out a good message.

  28. lihtox says:

    The problem with the expiration is that people don’t keep track of when they put their number on the list, so they won’t know when their number expires until they start to get a lot more telemarketers calling…they might not figure it out for a while, and when they do, it takes a couple months to get back on the list (right?)

    What would fix this is an automated system set up by the government which calls the people on the DNC list, telling them that their DNC status will expire in three months, and they need to re-register. At first I thought the automated machine should allow you to re-register by pressing “1″, but I’m wondering whether that would be prone to abuse or spoofing.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I think it is more important to improve enforcement of the current Do-Not-Call list than it is to increase the length of time a number stays on a list. It’s not a big deal (for me, anyway) to sign up again every 5 years.

    The bigger problem is that there are still companies that call you anyway, and no easy way to prevent it. What should be done, is that if you receive a telemarketing call, you hang up, wait 30-seconds, then pick up the phone and dial a code that flags the last call as junk. I believe the telco’s already have that option for tracing a call and forwarding it to police or other authorities, but there’s a $5 per use charge. (*75, I think) Flagging a junk call must be free. Telco turns over flagged calls to FTC, FTC goes after company placing calls and fines them a bunch of cash, and has their phone lines shut down. (Just like if you spam from you broadband internet account, your ISP disables your account under the TOU agreement.)