FTC targets prerecorded telemarketing drivel

In the ongoing battle to let us eat dinner in peace without being interrupted by amazingly annoying telemarketer blather and in this case the even more infuriating recorded telemarketing drivel, the Federal Trade Commission today basically outlawed such calls.

Specifically, the FTC changed its venerable Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) to prohibit, as of Sept. 2009, telemarketing calls that deliver prerecorded messages, unless a consumer has agreed to accept such calls from a given caller/seller.

Between now and 2009, telemarketers must provide an obvious, easy and quick way for consumers to opt-out of any call, the FTC said. Such an opt-out mechanism needs to be in place by December 1, 2008.

The change will not affect your ability to continue to receive calls that deliver informational prerecorded messages - notifying you, for example, that your flight has been cancelled, or that you have a service appointment. Such purely "informational" calls are not covered by the TSR because they do not attempt to sell the called party any goods or services, the FTC said.

However for those who have called on the FTC to help eliminate the other phone scourge - political robocalls  - the new rule will not help.  Calls from political campaigns are considered protected speech an FTC representative said.

 Ultimately consumers may get some help from state legislatures as many are regulating or looking to pass laws for more control over automated or robocall computer-generated phone-calling campaigns. One group, the National Political Do Not Contact Registry is campaigning to outlaw political robocalling altogether.

Meanwhile, the FTC also adopted a regulation changing the way telemarketers use the phone.  No doubt if you have received an unsolicited telemarketing call, there is a delay in the time when you pick up and say "hello" and the response on the other end.  Sometimes no one answers at all.  This situation is called "call abandonment" by the FTC and it has tweaked its enforcement of such delay or non-responses. The TSR in fact requires that at least 97% of a telemarketer's calls be answered in person and  get connected to a salesperson within two seconds after a consumer answers.

Call abandonment is a side-effect of very efficient telemarketing equipment called predictive dialers. Predictive dialers place calls in anticipation that a salesperson will become available by the time one of the numbers called is answered, the FTC said.

Here though the FTC is making a more subtle change. While retaining the 97% requirement, it will now calculate call abandonment over a 30-day period, rather than on a daily basis as is now the case. The change will permit the use of smaller calling lists than before without an appreciable increase in call abandonments, the FTC claims. It will let all sellers target their calling campaigns to consumers most likely to be interested in their offer, and will benefit small businesses that have smaller customer lists in particular, the FTC said.  The modified method for measuring the maximum allowable rate of call abandonment will become effective on October 1, 2008.

The new rules come in part from over 14,000 comments the agency received on the subjects since it last changed or proposed changes to the rules in 2006.  

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