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D-day for 'do not call'

Despite input from federal courts and agencies, industry groups, Congress, and the President, the "do not call" list is up in the air on the day it was scheduled to take effect.

Today was supposed to be the day. And it still is, sort of.

On the day the national "do not call" list was scheduled to take effect, the issue may be more complicated than ever, though the Federal Communications Commission is vowing to enforce the registry.

Two federal courts, two federal agencies, two industry organizations, the U.S. Supreme Court, the House, the Senate and the President have all weighed in on the legislation. Yet the recent flurry of activity may have little impact on call centers across the country, which have been prepping for today for months.

"We've been preparing for this since March," said Gaye Weinberger, senior vice president of business requirements for Aegis Communications Group Inc., a marketing services company in Irving, Texas. "We never stopped preparing."

A majority of Aegis' clients, which include American Express and AT&T, have already taken steps to adjust their marketing strategies from outbound cold calling to up-selling and cross-selling during inbound calls, Weinberger said.

Even if the list is eventually struck down, many companies realize that there are people on the other end of more than 50 million phone lines on the registry, and those customers don't want to receive marketing calls, Weinberger said.

It's a sentiment echoed by many industry analysts. Even the Direct Marketing Association, the group that challenged the legislation in federal court, has urged its members to comply with the list, whether it turns out to be enforceable or not.

Additionally, with several state lists already up and running, companies are better prepared for the new federal requirements, both from a procedural and technical standpoint.

"It hasn't been a huge investment for us," Weinberger said. "We were already compliant with state 'do not call' and internal corporate 'do not call' lists. It was probably an investment of under $50,000."

Considering the confusion in the past week, going ahead with initial plans to comply may save a lot of headaches. Here's a look at what's transpired:

Sept. 24: The Direct Marketing Association scored a legal victory when a federal judge in Oklahoma City ruled that the Federal Trade Commission did not have the authority to enforce the list.

Sept. 25: Acting with alarming speed, on the House and Senate both passed legislation granting the needed authority to the FTC. The Federal Communications Commission also stepped in to take over the list.

Late in the afternoon, another federal judge weighed in from Colorado, ruling with the American Teleservices Association that the list violated the free speech amendment to the Constitution because it applied to commercial calls but not charitable or political ones.

Sept. 26: The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver had denied a petition from telemarketers to prevent the FCC from enforcing the list.

Sept. 29: The Federal Communications Commission stepped in to enforce the list, but the Oklahoma City judge warned the agency not to try to "skirt the ruling."

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer refused to block the appeals court decision. Hours later, the Denver judge warned the FCC not to enforce the list. The FTC is appealing the Denver judge's ruling.

President Bush also signed the bill from Congress, giving the FTC its authority. It was a move the Denver court's ruling rendered moot.

Sept. 30: The FTC had announced it would prevent the addition of new numbers to the registry. With the list essentially shut down, telemarketers that hadn't yet acquired the list likely could not be penalized.

Yet given the fluidity of the situation, that final development has made the issue even more confusing for telemarketers.

"This leaves marketers, especially small ones who had waited to purchase the list due to last week's legal decisions or who had read statements from the FTC indicating that they may be able to receive it free of charge, in a Catch-22," said Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs for the DMA, in a release. "They will not be able to make calls, and they will be unable to obtain the list or verify if their customers have obtained the list."


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