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FCC Will Enforce Telemarketer Do-not-call List, Chairman Says

By Matt Richtel with Richard W. Stevenson

The New York Times -- The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday that the agency would enforce restrictions on unwanted telephone solicitations that were scheduled to take effect Wednesday.

The announcement came after two federal court rulings last week preventing the Federal Trade Commission -- the agency that has been taking the lead on the issue -- from enforcing a national do-not-call list.

“The FCC will enforce its do-not-call rules against telemarketers that have obtained the do-not-call list from the FTC, beginning Wednesday,” Michael K. Powell, the FCC chairman, said.

Some 50 million Americans have signed up for the list since July. Under the law, telemarketers who call numbers on the list can be fined up to $11,000 for each violation.

Monday, the telemarketing industry asked the Supreme Court to block the FCC from enforcing the new regulations, but the court declined to issue an emergency stay, allowing the agency to move forward for now.

Even as the push to regulate telemarketing became entangled in legal fights, politicians remained steadfast in their intent to deliver relief to millions of Americans tired of answering telemarketing calls.

In a White House ceremony Monday, President Bush signed a law giving the Federal Trade Commission explicit authority to enforce the do-not-call list. That law was passed with near unanimous approval by Congress last week after a federal judge in Oklahoma ruled that Congress had not given authority to the trade commission to administer such a list.

Bush generally supports reducing regulation of business. But in this case, political strategists said, public opinion in favor of limiting telemarketers’ calls is so strong that Bush had little choice but to support the legislation.

“While many good people work in the telemarketing industry, the public is understandably losing patience with these unwanted phone calls, unwanted intrusions,” Bush said. “And given a choice, Americans prefer not to receive random sales pitches at all hours of the day.”

While noting that the registry is under legal challenges, Bush said that the “conclusion of the American people and the legislative branch and the executive branch is beyond question.”

But Congress’ clarification of trade commission’s authority on the registry does not answer all the legal questions. Last Thursday, Judge Edward W. Nottingham of the U.S. District Court in Denver ruled that the trade commission’s regulations violated the free speech rights of telemarketers. Monday he denied a request to stay the judgment; the agency has filed an appeal.

The jurisdictional confusion is in part the result of having both the trade commission and the FCC jointly promulgating do-not-call rules. Because the trade commission has been the lead agency, it has collected the names of consumers who wish to have their phone numbers blocked, and has established a procedure for providing those numbers to telemarketers.