WASHINGTON – Congress took the first steps Tuesday to ensure that people who registered for the national Do Not Call list won’t be inundated next year with telemarketing calls at dinnertime.
At separate House and Senate committee sessions, lawmakers passed legislation that makes most of the 145 million phone numbers on the list permanent by eliminating a five-year expiration date established by the Federal Trade Commission, which administers the program.
The Associated Press reported last month that millions of phone numbers on the registry would start dropping off beginning next summer unless people re-registered.
Reversing course, the FTC announced last week that it would not purge expired numbers while Congress considers making the phone listings permanent.
A measure sponsored by Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday and will be sent to the full House for a vote.
Doyle said his legislation would give millions of Americans “a little much-needed peace and quiet.”
In the Senate, a measure similar to the Doyle bill cleared the Commerce Committee. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who sponsored the bill, said it would prevent phones from starting to ring again at supper time. The bill heads to the full Senate for a vote.
Last month, the FTC had said the expiration date was needed to account for changes, such as people who move and switch their phone numbers.
Critics complained, pointing out that the list is already scrubbed each month of numbers that have been disconnected and reassigned to new customers. Doyle’s bill would require purges by the FTC twice a month.
Since the registry began in June 2003, the government has filed cases against about 30 companies, resulting in $8.8 million in civil penalties and $8.6 million in redress to consumers and forfeitures.
Most of the penalties were paid by satellite television provider DirecTV Inc., as part of a $5.3 million settlement – the largest in the program’s history.