In August, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released two amendments to its telemarketing rules:
"One will expressly bar telemarketing calls that deliver prerecorded messages, unless a consumer previously has agreed to accept such calls from the seller. The other related technical amendment modifies the TSR's method of calculating the maximum permissible level of 'call abandonment'."
Over 14,000 people submitted comments to the FTC, which prompted the change in rules. Telemarketers must know get the consumers' express written permission in order to send prerecorded telemarketing calls. That permission can be obtained in a variety of ways, such as via a web site opt-in mechanism, in a response postal mailer, or during a "live" telemarketing phone call. Details about the new rule about prerecorded calls (a/k/a automated or "robo-calls"):
Permit sellers to obtain the required permission for prerecorded message sales calls from a consumer in any manner permitted by the Electronic Signatures In Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN Act)... by December 1, 2008, sellers and telemarketers provide, at the outset of all prerecorded messages, an automated keypress or voice-activated interactive opt-out mechanism so that consumers can opt out as easily as they can from a live telemarketing call.."
So, consumers will receive automated telemarketing calls only after they have opted-in or given the telemarketer their written permission. Two classes of companies are exempt from the new rules: healthcare-related prerecorded message calls consistent with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and:
"... charitable solicitation phone calls placed by for-profit telemarketers (telefunders) that deliver prerecorded messages on behalf of non-profits to members of, or previous donors to, the nonprofit, but require that such calls include a prompt keypress or voice-activated opt-out mechanism..."
While the FTC will start enforcement against violators of the new rules, it is a lukewarm or very slow start:
"End the FTC's current policy of forbearing from bringing enforcement actions against sellers and telemarketers who place prerecorded calls that meet certain specified conditions that would be inconsistent with the new requirements; but permit sellers, as under the forbearance policy, to continue for one year after the rule's publication to place calls delivering prerecorded messages to consumers with whom they have an established business relationship, after which no prerecorded message calls can be made to consumers without their express permission."
If you want to learn more about the new telemarketing rules, download the Federal Register Notice (PDF, 111 pages, 480KB).