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The Past, Present And Future Of The Do-Not-Call List

What is the Do Not Call List? Why was it created?

A better question is, why wasn't the Do Not Call List created sooner? Most people find telemarketers annoying and invasive, and would prefer never to hear from them. In the early 1990s, Congress responded to consumers' complaints by requesting a national Do Not Call List, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determined that this would be too expensive for telemarketing companies. This forced people to register independently with each company they wished not to hear from. Not unlike the Dutch boy with his finger in the dam, this was really only a temporary and inadequate solution to an impending flood of trouble.

In 2002, low long-distance telephone rates allowed more foreign telemarketing companies (and con artists) to call US residents. This motivated Congress and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to develop stricter laws to stop unwanted calling. The Do Not Call Implementation Act, which makes it illegal for telemarketers to contact consumers whose numbers are on the Do Not Call List, finally went into effect in March 2003. The FTC began the Do Not Call List a few months later.

Recently the FTC amended the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) to require companies to update their lists every 31 days (instead of every quarter, as before). This means that when you register your number, the most time you will have to wait for telemarketers to stop calling is 31 days.

My number has been on the list for over 31 days. Why do I still get calls?

There are some loopholes in the law, which means that you may still get unwanted calls after you register. Political groups, surveyors, and non-profits - groups that are not trying to sell you something - are not considered telemarketers, so they may continue to contact you. Also, companies with whom you have a "business relationship" (and their telemarketer associates) can contact you for up to 18 months after you buy a product. For example, if you pay for cable television, your cable company or its affiliates may dial trying to sell you other services, and since you renew the service every month, they can check in more or less indefinitely. You could probably drive an SUV through that loophole. Finally, companies to whom you have given permission to use your number can continue to dial.

My number has been on the Do Not Call List for almost 5 years. Do I need to re-register it?

The original legislation for the Do Not Call List did state that registered phone numbers would expire after five years. However, the FTC recently announced that it will not enforce this policy unless Congress forces it to. Why not? Officials used to worry that the List would become cluttered with disconnected or reassigned numbers, but new "scrubbing technology" automatically removes these numbers. Also, because people are now more likely to keep the same phone number for longer, the FTC realized that it would be frustrating (and kind of silly) for thousands of people to have to re-register their numbers. Most importantly, the Do Not Call list has proven itself to be an easy and popular way for Americans to deter telemarketers (1). Success just doesn't get much better than that.

Do telemarketers have a cell phone directory? Should I register my cell phone?

You may have seen or heard of an email warning that telemarketers can soon get access to a cell phone directory that would allow them to contact you anywhere (anywhere you take your phone, that is; the bathroom and the shower are probably safe). Don't worry - this isn't true. There is no cell phone directory because most wireless companies know that their customers are concerned with their privacy. Furthermore, the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) prohibits telemarketing companies from using automatic dialing services to dial cell phones. This means telemarketers will only contact cell phone users who have permitted these companies to use their numbers.

Although the hoax emails first appeared in late 2004, and they sometimes resurface and spread like wildfire. The emails are usually forwarded on by unsuspecting people who think they are helping others out, and they cause millions of people to register their numbers with the FTC. The website ( and phone number (888-382-1222) provided in the email are not part of the hoax (that is, they put users in touch with the national Do Not Call List), so while using them to register a cell phone number will not necessarily provide any benefits, it can't hurt, either (2).


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