Fear not, telemarketing haters, your spot on the Do Not Call list is safe.
The Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday that it would not allow registrations on the list to expire next year, when the list's five-year anniversary arrives. The law that created the Do Not Call list originally called for registrations to last only five years. After that, consumers would have to re-register to continue the prohibition on unwanted sales calls.
In recent months, many news reports suggested consumers might forget to re-register, leading to a flourish of telemarketing and home phone frustration.
That led to introduction of new federal legislation that would make registration permanent. It is not clear, however, whether a new law will be passed and signed into law before millions of registrations begin expiring in June of next year.
But on Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission announced a simpler solution -- it simply won't let registrations lapse while future legislation is being discussed.
Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, delivered the news in testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.
"The commission now commits that it will not drop any telephone numbers from the registry based on the five-year expiration period pending final congressional or agency action on whether to make registration permanent," Parnes said.
The Do Not Call list has proven wildly popular with consumers. A 2006 survey by Harris Interactive found that 76 percent of adult Americans had placed their numbers on the list. Some 62 million Americans signed up in the list's first year, and all of their registrations were in peril before the FTC announcement.
As of 2007, there were 149 million phone numbers registered with the list.
FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras said the original five-year limitation was put in place to help clean out old phone numbers registered by consumers who move or disconnect phone service. New technologies now help keep the list clean of old numbers, making the sun-setting provision unnecessary, she said.
"When the registry was developed in 2003, the five-year registration period was a reasonable way to ensure that the list remained accurate and up-to-date," she said. "Our experience since then in building, maintaining and enforcing the registry has led the commission to re-examine its original position on re-registration."
'List hygiene' still an issue
Steve Berry, a spokesman for the Direct Marketing Association, said his group supports the FTC's actions today because it provides much-needed certainty to a potentially confusing situation.
Still, Berry said more could be done to improve what he calls "list hygiene." His agency estimates that as many as 48 percent of the phone numbers registrations on the Do Not Call list are inaccurate or contain errors.
"This hopefully allows Congress and the FTC and the industry an opportunity to figure out a better way to bring clarity to the list hygiene issue," he said. "Maybe we can get it right this time."
The Do Not Call list was long in the making. Its origins date back to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. Bureaucratic delays and lawsuits by marketing agencies stalled its launch for nearly 12 years. Only in 2003, with the passage of the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003, was the path cleared for telemarketing relief. The law ordered the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communication Commission to split the enforcement work.
Web site programmers at both agencies may be breathing a sigh of relief over Tuesday's announcement. In 2003, initial sign-up for the Do-Not-Call list was so popular that the government's Web site was overwhelmed. Automated e-mail responses from the FTC were so numerous that they clogged many spam filters. Automatic expiration of registrations threatened to create a similar technology headache.