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What DNC Means to You

According to the Direct Marketing Association, over 300,000 people had registered by noon on Friday, June 27, 2003, the first day the DNC website went live. After only fourteen hours of operation the web site had logged about 735,000 registrants. Interestingly enough however, a large number of confirmation emails from the FTC may have been blocked by anti-Spam software. Just over a year later, the number of registered phone numbers is nearing the 70 million mark!

Certain amendments were made to the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) when the "Final Rule" was published on January 26 of this year, but some regulations have remained hard and fast. Telemarketers are still required to restrict their calls to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., identify themselves as a seller, and offer full disclosure of the goods and services they are hawking without misrepresentation.

The amendments addressed further issues, including the ominous DNC list which got its start in June, 2003. Exemptions, call abandonment, digital identity disclosure, and the definition of "authorized billing" are topics that all telemarketers should be aware of whether they are primarily concerned with telemarketing and voice broadcast or involved with these media secondarily as part of their overall marketing scheme.

True to form, congress has exempted non-profit groups soliciting donations, including campaign donations, from scrubbing their call lists against the FTC's DNC list each ninety days. And, telemarketing firms operating on a non-profit organization's behalf are similarly exempt; although, they must honor individuals' requests to have their numbers stricken from the dial list. Long distance companies, airlines, and insurance carriers are also exempt. However, telemarketers operating on their behalf are not exempt.

Still, removing DNC numbers from their auto dialers is not the only thing that direct voice marketers have to worry about. To save consumers from waiting for extended periods before talking to the seller that has called their house, telemarketers need to connect them to a sales representative within two seconds of the answer. If a representative is not available a recording must be played with the seller's name and phone number but without a sales pitch. Further, no more than 3% of answered calls can end in abandonment and it is the telemarketer's responsibility to maintain records illustrating compliance with these restrictions.

Although telemarketers have always been responsible for identifying themselves verbally as a seller, according to the TSR, the final rule now makes them responsible to identify themselves digitally. Sellers' numbers and names if possible must be accessible to caller ID technology.

Telemarketers are also responsible for identifying their billing practices fully. The TSR has set forth very explicit guidelines for what is considered authorized billing. Unauthorized billing will be viewed as "abusive." Written billing confirmation will only be allowed when sellers are not involving the consumer in a free-to-pay situation and do not possess pre-acquired account information. Only recorded oral authorization will be accepted as "express informed consent" to billing in these situations and only if they meet the following guidelines. The consumer must express agreement to be billed, and the consumer must recite at least the last four digits of their account number. Sellers and telemarketers also cannot buy or sell unencrypted account numbers.

Before telemarketers throw their hands up, they should consider that most of the regulations listed above are already in common practice. Furthermore, sellers can still contact their customers for up to three months following a request for information and for eighteen months after they purchase a product or service or pay a bill. Still, written permission is required for any for-profit company to contact even their own clientele without restriction if they are on the DNC list. However, we have been dealing with the state run DNC's for a while. If anything, the FTC's DNC offers a centralized contact point for phone number suppression, as opposed to the thirty-five lists that are currently or soon to be in effect. The TSR makes provisions to "square with" or incorporate all these lists eventually.

SAN Number Provision

If you are utilizing a telephone to promote your business, you need to register with the FTC on their website at www.telemarketing.donotcall.gov. The first five area codes that you wish to solicit within are free. Beyond that, each area code costs $25 per year with a maximum annual fee of $7,325.

All Telemarketers who use the DNC list must first submit appropriate certification information in order to receive a "SAN" (Subscription Account Number). Your SAN entitles you to download the phone numbers of the Do Not Call registrants in your calling areas.

Lists purchased from mailing list suppliers are often but not always pre-scrubbed against the Do Not Call Lists from each state as well as the national list. It is crucial, however, that everyone understands the penalty phase of the rules. Only the company which benefits from the actual call is liable in the event of an inappropriate call. That being said, it makes sound financial sense to put a process in place that eliminates any numbers registered on the DNC from your calling list. This de-dupe process can be completed in-house or by your list supplier. Additionally, your SAN must be provided to your list supplier prior to delivery of any telephone data. Plan ahead and avoid registration delays by registering for your SAN well in advance of your campaign.

The rules are somewhat confusing and, depending on the size of your calling area, somewhat expensive to follow. It's important however to not let these and other factors put your organization into a position of non-compliance. With a few easy steps and a thorough process in place, you can avoid the "DNC blues".