Washington, June 27 (Reuters): One thousand people per second signed up today to get on a free “do not call” list that will prevent telemarketers from bothering them at home, swamping telephone lines and a web site set up to handle demand.
Eager Americans rushed to place their home phone numbers on the Federal Trade Commission’s list shortly after President George W. Bush launched the measure in a White House ceremony.
By noon the list had grown to 370,000 and was increasing by 1,000 per second, the FTC said.
The do-not-call list should help Americans enjoy their private time without unwanted interruptions, Bush said a few hours after the list was opened up for registration.
“When Americans are sitting down to dinner or a parent is reading to his or her child, the last thing they need is a call from a stranger with a sales pitch,” Bush said in a White House Rose Garden ceremony.
Telemarketers who call numbers on the list after October 1 will face penalties of up to $11,000 per call, as well as possible consumer lawsuits.
Consumers can sign up for the list by logging on to (http://donotcall.gov), while those living west of the Mississippi river can also register by calling 1-888-382-1222.
Consumers will not have to pay to get on the list, as it will be funded by telemarketers.
Plunging long-distance rates and computerised dialers have led to a five-fold increase in telemarketing calls over the past decade, prompting a deluge of consumer complaints.
The FTC announced plans for the list last year, and Congress approved it shortly afterward. The list will also include mobile phone numbers.
Do-not-call lists have proven popular in the roughly 25 states that have set them up. In Minnesota, for example, roughly half of the state’s 2.2 million residential lines have subscribed.
FTC officials ultimately expect 60 million households to sign up for the national list, prompting the agency to delay telephone-based registration until July 7 for those living east of the Mississippi in an effort to handle demand.
Individuals across the country said they had trouble getting on to the website this morning, or were kicked off once they started the registration process.
FTC spokeswoman Cathy MacFarlane said consumers don’t need to rush as they have all summer to sign up, and will not see a drop-off in telemarketing calls until Oct. 1.
Consumers will also be able to sign up for the list after the summer.
The list does not cover all callers. Nonprofit and political callers will be free to ignore it, but will have to honor consumer requests not to be called back. Businesses will be free to call customers for 18 months after making a sale, but they too will have to honor opt-out requests.
Telemarketing groups have sued to scratch the effort, arguing that it abridges free-speech rights, and say it could decimate an industry that employs 2 million.
Privacy advocate Jason Catlett, who has pushed for a national list for years, said he has little sympathy for their plight.
”Free speech doesn't give you the right to pester people in their homes when they don't want to be pestered,” said Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., which helps clients avoid unwanted commercial pitches.