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Second judge cripples 'do not call' list

Congress acted with stunning speed to close the legal loophole that caused a judge to block the rollout of a national "do not call" registry. Now a second judge has put the registry on hold.

After months of preparation, the long-awaited federal "do not call" list has been thrown into turmoil in the past week. The drama culminated Thursday when both the House and Senate acted rapidly to address a U.S. District Court ruling that had put the list on hold, only to see a different judge block the list later in the day.

Edward Nottingham, a U.S. District Court judge in Denver, ruled late Thursday that the list violated the First Amendment because it applied to calls from commercial organization but not to those from charities.

Nottingham's ruling came on the heels of a ruling by Judge Lee West of Oklahoma City, who ruled Wednesday that the Federal Trade Commission did not have the authority to manage the list. Both the House and Senate acted quickly to counter that ruling, voting by overwhelming margins to pass legislation granting greater authority to the FTC.

While that legislation requires approval from the president and may be addressed quickly, the Denver ruling could cause a long delay for the popular measure, originally scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, because it addresses constitutional issues.

More than 50 million phone numbers have been registered with the FTC by people wishing to prevent telemarketers' calling them to offer products over the phone.

If the proposal went into effect, organizations that called numbers on the list would face fines of up to $11,000 per offense. Charities, political organizations and people with prior business relationships to those they call would be exempt.

While lawsuits against the measure filed by both the Direct Marketing Association and the American Teleservices Association have been pending for months, call centers across the country have nonetheless been preparing for its effect. Software vendors have offered new functions to comply with the act, and call centers have been scrambling to address the law.

No matter the fate of the "do not call" list or its ultimate form, industry analysts agree that the attention it brought is a wake-up call to marketers. New ways will need to be found to sell products to customers.

While consumers will be disappointed with the rulings, things have already begun to change, according to Elizabeth Roche and Tim Hickernell, analysts with Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group.

"It is effectively a nonevent for organizations that are already supporting 'opt-in/opt-out' and consent management principles, as 'do not call' is a logical extension of these CRM best practices," they said in a statement.

Hickernell and Roche said that, in the next 18 to 24 months, they expect to see strategies such as inbound marketing, campaign co-design -- where customers and business together specify marketing channels -- and contextual advertising. Essentially, companies must continue to prepare for "do not call" because its underlying principles are important and should be implemented, regardless of the fate of the federal registry, they said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Article: Judge strikes down national 'do not call' list

Expert advice: Submit a question to call center expert Lori Bocklund

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