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FTC Chairman Timothy Muris on Do Not Call List

Timothy Muris, the head of the Federal Trade Commission that runs the Do-Not-Call list, discusses the continuing standoff in court and what consumers can expect in the meantime.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    After court delays, this weekend the Federal Trade Commission began enforcing the new "Do-Not-Call" registry. The registry contains more than 53 million phone numbers of people who do not want to be contacted by telemarketers. Two federal court rulings originally blocked the list from taking effect on October 1. A judge in Oklahoma said the FTC did not have the authority to enforce the registry. Two days later a Colorado court ruled that by exempting some telemarketers from the ban, the FTC violated free-speech protections. But last week, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel gave the agency permission to begin enforcement.

    For more, I'm joined now by Timothy Muris, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Well, 6:00 on Saturday, the enforcement began, people were supposed to start observing the list. We're about 48 hours in now. How is it going so far?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Well, I leave it to you to decide to decide whether it was an accident that we started at the dinner hour. Telemarketers who had the list were subject to the FCC's rule on October 1. We expect them to be in compliance. A lot of telemarketers didn't have the list and we're giving them until this Friday to come into compliance. So far all the indications are that… that people are complying, that the calls have decreased but we intend to be very aggressive at enforcing the law for those who don't comply.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Are there still other legal processes that have to be played out to their ultimate conclusion? Is this still in court, in effect?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Yes. When the 10th Circuit stayed the district court decision, it set a very fast briefing schedule and on November 10, there will be an oral argument in Tulsa before this court so there could be a full decision on the merits fairly quickly after that.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    But you're legally able to continue enforcement pending whatever outcome comes along?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Absolutely. One of the reasons that the 10th circuit stayed the lower court was it said we're likely to prevail on the merits so we're optimistic. We think the law and the facts are on our side.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The associations that telemarketers belong to don't think you have the facts on their side but they've advised their members to observe the do not call list pending the end of this litigation. What are the tools that the FTC has in its hands at the moment? How can you, how do you enforce the list?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Well, the list is the law of the land. We would expect people to comply. Most of the telemarketers and sellers — and the rule applies to the people who are selling the products that are being telemarketed — are legitimate businesses, so we expect them to comply. We have a variety of tools. Consumers can complain online and over the phone to us. It's an automated system. We'll evaluate those complaints. And also quite frankly, although I don't want to go into too much detail on this, we have a small list of people who we think are likely to violate and we're watching them very closely.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Is the list closed?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    No.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    If someone is listening to this program tonight and says, oh, gee, a do not call list, I want to be on it. Have you stopped taking new numbers?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    No, we started taking — we were shut down briefly because of the court. We started taking numbers last Thursday at 8:00. They can call us by phone; they can go online to do not call.Gov and register. We have over 53 million phone numbers and we expect a lot more.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    But if you sign up now, there should be some waiting period but you're actually really on the list.

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Yes, if you signed up after September 1, you can expect about 90 days at least before the reduction in calls starts.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And this doesn't mean a blanket end to the use of telemarketing. If the phone rings, who is still able to be on the other end?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Well, charities are able to call you. Politicians are able to call you — people who are doing surveys, legitimate surveys — if it's really an excuse to sell you product they can't use a survey to do that — people with whom you have ongoing business relationship. Now with most of those groups with the exceptions of the politicians and the surveys, if you don't want to be called again, ask them to put you on their company's specific do not call list and they have to honor that.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Is there really a difference between a call from one place and a call from another place if they want you to use a product or a service? Isn't this the problem that one of the courts had with the ban?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Well, it is. But we think the court is wrong about that. The evidence in our records shows that although many people regard calls from charities and politicians the same as commercial telemarketers many do not. One of the best summaries that I've seen is a recent Harris Poll which said 77 percent of the people regard the calls from commercial telemarketers as always a problem but only 43 percent regarded the political fund raising as always a problem and only 31 percent regarded charitable fund raising as always a problem.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The FTC in one way or another oversees the activities of a lot of businesses. How is a telemarketing call different from a piece of commercial mail or an Internet e-mail communication trying to sell you something?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Well, the difference with… the difference with the commercial mail is easy and obvious. You get your mail once a day. It's easy to sort through. The calls come one at a time and they interrupt you one at a time. That's a real problem. Spam is a very serious problem. Unfortunately, a do not spam list wouldn't work because unlike the telemarketers who are mostly, and the sellers, who are mostly legitimate businesses, most of the spammers, the overwhelming majority of the spammers are already violating laws. We collect spam. We actually ask people to send us their spam. We get over 100,000 spam a day. We've done various searches of it. Overwhelmingly those people are already violating laws including our own.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    During this first phase, you know, we're only 48 hours into this, do you expect that you'll be hearing from a lot of people who think they're on the list but aren't in fact on it?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Well, we expect some people to be that way. We opened up registration on June 27. Obviously someone could be mistaken that they were on the list. If they complain to us whether it's via the Internet or via the phone and they're not on the list they'll be immediately told and they'll be able to register.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The businesses themselves, will they get a warning first before more punitive measures are taken?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Well, we intend to look at the circumstances, whether they've taken steps to be in compliance. But we intend to enforce this rule aggressively. We're not giving the telemarketers one free bite of the apple.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And how will they know who is on the do not call list?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Through an automated system, they can access the list through us. And we've had over 400 telemarketers before we were shut down had access to the entire list and over 5,000 had access to part of the list. The list is by area codes and many telemarketers don't cover the whole country. So telemarketers can get that part of the list that they need.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    They have to buy it from you?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Yes, the maximum fee is a little over $7,000. The first five area codes are free. And in many parts of the country five area codes covers a lot of ground.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The 32 states that have do not call lists, are they on the sidelines waiting to see what happens in your court case? Do their laws rise or fall with what is eventually decided here?

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Well, the principle … the issues at stake in our case are very similar to the issues at stake in their cases. Now every state can enforce our rule in federal court if it wants. Many states as you mentioned have rules in addition to ours. What we hope to have is one national registry enforced by the FTC and the states. Many states are moving to bring their rules into conformity with ours. Many states have given us their names. The only state that wants to give us its names which is about to do so and has not is Pennsylvania. There are over 3 million names that Pennsylvania is going to give to us, a lot of those people probably already signed up. The list is going to get even larger.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Timothy Muris of the Federal Trade Commission, thanks a lot.

  • TIMOTHY MURIS:

    Thank you.