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House passes bill to block telemarketing calls

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Most telemarketers will be forbidden to call the homes of people who join a national "do not call" registry under legislation that passed the House Wednesday.

It was offered in response to consumer complaints about annoying dinner-time phone calls from telemarketers selling everything from vacation time-shares to lower long distance rates.

The bill sets in place the funding mechanism for the registry.

Separately Wednesday, congressional appropriators gave tentative approval to the Federal Trade Commission to spend as much as $16 million this year to start the system.

But the program faces a potential snag that could require a separate vote in the Senate. Congressional aides said the future of the registry could be in doubt if it needs the new vote because any one senator could block the bill, which has been heavily lobbied by both industry and consumer groups.

The telemarketing industry, which says it makes billions of dollars in sales each year, opposes the bill. It has sued the FTC on the grounds that the registry interferes with the its right to free speech.

The Federal Communications Commission is developing a separate registry. A spokesman for the FTC said that if the FCC registry is adopted, the two agencies' lists will block 80 percent of all telemarketing calls.

Only calls from charities, surveys, and political organizations will be exempt, the FTC said.

Several states already have "do not call" lists but consumer advocates have complained many are not effective and have pushed for a national registry.

The White House supports the registry.

Those who want to join the list will be able to do so by calling a toll-free number or signing up at a Web sire.

Telemarketers would be required to check the list every three months to ensure they have the updated lists of people who don't want to be called. The companies will face stiff fines if they make calls to people on the list.

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