In the Matter of
Telemarketing Sales Rule Review Comment.
FTC File No. P994414
1. Verizon Wireless, formerly known as Bell Atlantic Mobile, PrimeCo and Air Touch Cellular, submits these comments pursuant to the Notice of the Telemarketing Sales Rule Review (the "Notice") published February 23, 2000, concerning proposed amendments to the Federal Trade Commis-sions (the "Commission") Trade Regulation Rule, 16 C.F.R. Part 310 (the "Rule" or "TSR"), pursuant to the Telemarketing Individual Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act of 1994 (the "Act").
2. Verizon Wireless is one of the leading nationwide providers of commercial mobile radio services, including digital, PCS, and analog cellular telephone service. Verizon Wireless believes that the TSR is achieving the goals of the Act. The primary purpose of its comments is to encourage the Commission to leave the Rule intact and unchanged. Verizon Wireless believes that the Rule is an effective tool in its current state. Instead, the Commission should focus its efforts on education, ensuring that both consumers and companies engaging in telemarketing become more aware of standards and consumer rights offered by the TSR.
3. The TSR was enacted in 1995 with the aim of preventing deceptive and abusive telemarketing practices and providing individuals with a forum within which to protect their rights. To accomplish these goals, the TSR sets forth certain telemarketing standards (parts 310.3 and 310.4), provides individuals and attorney generals with a means to enforce these standards (part 310.7), and recognizes and relies upon the self-regulation of telemarketing industries (part 310.4(b)).
4. Since 1995, companies have complied with both the TSR and, in many cases, self-regulatory industry standards. Verizon Wireless believes that this dual enforcement system has been extremely effective in dealing with the perceived abuses relating to telemarketing practices. The effectiveness of the TSR is evidenced in the case of Verizon Wireless by its sparse number of consumer complaints, its focus on the training of its telemarketing employees and its maintenance of a continually updated do-not-call list.
5. While Verizon Wireless acknowledges the overall effectiveness of the Rule since its enactment five years ago, it encourages the Commission to continue to communicate to the public the substance of the Rule and the protections it provides rather than modify the Rule in any material respect. Given that the continued success of the TSR depends on both telemarketers and individuals awareness of the Rule, the Commission should strive to increase this awareness by educating the public. It is through such education that consumers can be made aware of how simple it is to stop unwanted telemarketing calls, just by informing the caller that they no longer wish to receive such calls. In so doing, it is likely that the unwarranted perception of the intrusiveness of telemarketing practices, and the consumer complaints relating thereto, would largely vanish. This, in turn, would decrease the perceived need of state regulators to pass additional legislation to address consumers concerns.
6. In conjunction with an increase in education, the Commission should encourage states to exercise restraint against the enactment of divergent legislation. Currently, a majority of states that have telemarketing laws impose requirements which vary from or exceed the scope of those set forth in the TSR. The varying state requirements relate to, among other things, the manner in which a telemarketers dialogue may be conducted (i.e., the means by which telemarketers are permitted to supply information and respond to consumer inquiries), licensure requirements of telemarketing salespersons, the types of organizations which are exempt from telemarketing rule requirements, the times within which telemarketing solicitations may be made, and the binding nature of purchase commitments made through telephone sales. More specifically, for example, Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, North Dakota, and Ohio require signed contract for the sale to be valid. At least three of these states also demand that the consumer return the signed agreement to the telemarketer before the telemarketer can process payment. Kentucky and North Carolina require a telemarketer to ask the called party if they are eighteen years of age or older before the telemarketer is able to continue with the call. Furthermore, five states require that the telemarketer request permission to continue with the solicitation at the outset of the call, and eight states require that the telemarketer end the call immediately if the consumer gives a negative response or indicates no interest in the solicitation. While these diverging standards offer little, if any, additional protection to consumers beyond what is already available through the Rule, they serve to confuse individuals and companies alike, while making compliance difficult for companies that conduct business throughout the United States.
7. These burgeoning and widely varying state statutes dilute the effectiveness of the single message the TSR provides. These statutes perplex consumers as to their rights and create confusion among companies as to their obligations. Moreover, the costs of compliance are increasing at considerable rates along with the swiftly escalating number of state law enactments (California, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee are among the states with pending legislation). For example, telemarketers, who already must maintain an internal do-not-call list pursuant to the TSR, are now required by a growing number of states to comply with economically burdensome and procedurally ambiguous state do-not-call lists which may be duplicative and, at any rate, offer little added protection to the consumer.
8. The considerable and cumbersome variations in ever-increasing state legislation are unnecessary in light of the effectiveness of the TSR, especially when combined with increased consumer awareness. This is all the more so, given the advancement of technological refinements, such as Caller ID and screening mechanisms, which increase individuals ability to identify callers prior to answering their telephone. The growing prevalence of such technology will empower individuals to control the messages and advertisements they receive, thereby rendering prior telemarketing abuses increasingly obsolete.
9. In summary, Verizon Wireless acknowledges the progress the telemarketing industry has made under the guidance of the TSR. It recognizes that a consistency in telemarketing law will increase awareness and encourage companies to comply with their obligations and consumers to assert their rights. It therefore recommends that the Commission move forward with the Rule without material revision and take steps to foster a system of national uniformity.
By /s/ Ronald R. Urbach