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Congress Votes to Reinstate Do-Not-Call List

The move is a response to the decision issued late Tuesday by a U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City in favor of the Direct Marketing Association and four other plaintiffs. U.S. District Judge Lee West said the FTC did not have the necessary authority from Congress to implement the list.

West said the 1994 Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act gave the Federal Communications Commission, not the FTC, the authority to operate a national database of people who do not want to receive telemarketing calls.

About 50 million people have signed up for the registry that was due to take effect Oct. 1.

In response to the court decision, the House and Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation to ratify the FTC to establish the do-not-call registry. Even if President Bush signs the bill, however, West must still dismiss the case before the list can proceed, the Associated Press reported.

The FTC has promised to appeal the ruling. “One way or another we believe this District Court decision will not stand in the way,” said Eileen Harrington, the FTC’s director of marketing practices, according to the AP.

And despite the ruling, consumers can continue signing up for the free service, the FTC said. “It’s business as usual,” said spokeswoman Cathy MacFarlane.

The FTC asked the court for a temporary stay until the appeal can be heard, but West rejected the request on Thursday.

The FTC argued that the Omnibus Appropriations Act, signed by President Bush in February, authorizes it to “implement and enforce the do-not-call provisions of the Telemarketing Sales Rule.”

“This decision is clearly incorrect,” FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said in a written statement. “We will seek every recourse to give American consumers a choice to stop unwanted telemarketing calls.”

The Direct Marketing Association hailed the ruling.

“The Direct Marketing Association and its fellow plaintiffs are grateful that the federal district court in Oklahoma City understood and upheld the industry’s belief that the Federal Trade Commission does not have authority to implement and enforce a national do-not-call list,” the trade group said in a press release.

The association also said it “acknowledges the wishes of millions of U.S. consumers who have expressed their preferences not to receive telephone-marketing solicitations — as evidenced by the millions of phone numbers registered on the FTC list.”

Members of Congress criticized the court’s decision, arguing that they gave the FTC the authority to implement the list.

“We are confident this ruling will be overturned and the nearly 50 million Americans who have signed up for the do-not-call list will remain free from unwanted telemarketing calls in the privacy of their own homes,” said Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a written statement.

President Bush signed the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act in March 2003, which charged the FTC with administering the list.

The telemarketing industry estimates that implementation of the do-not-call list could cut its business in half, costing it up to $50 billion in sales each year. Under the FTC’s do-not-call list regulations, telemarketers would have to check the registry every three months to get an updated list of people who do not want to be called. Telemarketers who call people on the list could be fined up to $11,000 for each violation.

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