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Pity the poor telemarketer?

Nov 11, 20024 mins

“You take telemarketing away and there’s no Wall Street,” he says. In other words, all that stands between modern life and a return to an agrarian society is the noble telemarketer.

When Buzz first chatted with Gryphon Networks CEO Keith Fotta a year ago it was easy to see how his company was positioned for success. Gryphon sells a network-based service that lets telemarketing companies comply with a mushrooming roster of state-maintained do-not-call lists.

A year later, six more states have passed such laws – 32 now have them – and bills are pending in all 18 others. Only a legislator looking for a career change would dare oppose such popular consumer protection, and with enforcement agencies levying millions of dollars worth of fines, only a foolish telemarketer would continue to dial without using a service such a Gryphon’s.

Sounds like a winning business model, all right.

However, what wasn’t apparent during our initial conversation – not to Buzz, at least – was how easily Gryphon might fall victim to the same antipathy toward telemarketing that spawned the company. Fotta set me straight on the stakes recently while explaining why he opposes an effort by the Federal Trade Commission to establish a national do-not-call list.

“Consumers are not going to benefit from having a national list,” says Fotta, who cites redundancy and the federal government’s limited enforcement resources among a litany of objections. “The real scary thing that I’m most afraid of for the telemarketing industry is that if the national list gets passed they’re talking about it being free to consumers. [Some states charge a small fee; others are free.] That will collapse the telemarketing industry, and I’ll tell you why.”

Please do.

“In states where there’s any kind of fee, 7% to 10% of consumer households will sign up. In states that are free, 50% or more will sign up,” he says.

What’s wrong with more people signing up?

“The telemarketing industry disappears,” he says.

Again, what’s wrong with that?

“I’ll tell you: The Direct Marketing Association [DMA] releases numbers that say there was $661 billion in revenue generated last year by the telemarketing industry, which employs 6 million people. The thing they don’t tell you is that the big financial services companies aren’t considered part of the DMA. If you put Wall Street – every bank, every brokerage firm, every insurance company – on it, the number goes to 10 million people that generated over a trillion dollars for the U.S. economy, which is 12% of the gross domestic product. That’s not something you want to screw around with going into a recession and a potential war,” Fotta says.

So you’re telling me that we want to set up a system that by its nature limits participation to 10%? Why would we want to do that?

“No, what we’re doing is putting a responsible mechanism in place where people who want to sign up for do-not-call lists have to have some skin in the game.”

Fotta also says that consumers should have to renew their do-not-call request periodically, say every two or three years, to ensure that numbers do not remain off-limits to telemarketers long after their owners have moved.

He does not believe in soft-pedaling the hyperbole.

“You take telemarketing away and there’s no Wall Street,” he says.

In other words, all that stands between modern life and a return to an agrarian society is the noble telemarketer.

On one level – a very shallow level – he’s right about the fees: It’s hard to argue that protection from telemarketers is truly important to an individual who won’t cough up a couple of bucks per year.

But overall, his argument is self-serving bunkum. Even cheapskates should be entitled to a little peace and quiet at dinnertime without having to jump through hoops.

Reaching me couldn’t be easier. The address is