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1.6 million register for do-not-call list

| Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2002

HARRISBURG - Consumers who have registered on the attorney general's list to block unsolicited telemarketing calls could begin to notice some reductions in calls during October, although they won't see the full effect until November.

As of Monday, 1.6 million Pennsylvanians had registered on the new do-not-call list - a figure that state Attorney General Mike Fisher said is "beyond our expectations."

"People will start to see a lessening of it in October," Fisher said Monday. "It's a way for consumers to relieve themselves of harassing telemarketers."

The cutoff for the first round of registrations ended Sunday. Those who signed up by then must be removed from telemarketing lists by Oct. 1, but telemarketers have 30 days to update the lists. So the full effect won't be seen until Nov. 1, said Barbara Petito, spokeswoman for the attorney general.

Those who register between now and Dec. 15 will be added to the list on Jan. 1 - with significant reductions in unwanted calls expected by Feb. 1.

Calling the early response "phenomenal," Fisher urged the Legislature to deal with the "next area of irritation" - unsolicited faxes and e-mails.

State Rep. Ron Raymond, a Republican from Delaware County, who wrote the legislation to block unwanted marketing calls, said he is satisfied with the response. He is working on legislation to deal with faxes and e-mails.

Telemarketers may be fined $1,000 for each violation, $3,000 if it is a senior citizen. The attorney general can seek an injunction to prevent violators from ever soliciting in Pennsylvania again, Petito said.

Proponents and detractors acknowledge that it's too early to assess the law's effectiveness.

The bill to limit unsolicited calls passed with unanimous legislative support. Gov. Mark Schweiker signed it into law in April.

Democrats have criticized the fact that Fisher - the attorney general and Republican nominee for governor - appears on publications paid for by taxpayers. Complaints have been muted due to the program's popularity, however.

State Rep. Joseph Preston, a Democrat from East Liberty and minority chairman of the House Consumer Affairs Committee, said he objects both because of the possible political benefit for Fisher and because the Web site (www.nocallsplease.com) should include legislators' names as well as the attorney general's.

"It's the Legislature that did it, along with the governor," Preston said. He said the attorney general was directed to breathe life into the law.

"I'd like to see my name on there, too," Preston said.

Dan Fee, a spokesman for Ed Rendell, the Democratic nominee for governor, said the inclusion of Fisher's name "seems a little suspect." But Rendell has made no formal protest.

Fisher said it is his responsibility to carry out the program.

"I'm the attorney general," he said. "It's something I've been pushing for" since representing Allegheny County in the Legislature for parts of the past three decades.

Fisher said he thinks the do-not-call list will continue to grow, but not at the rate as the first phase that ended Sunday. The program was launched Aug. 6.

The Attorney General's Office contracts with a nonprofit group, the Direct Marketing Association of Carmel, N.Y., to maintain the list of consumers who want to avoid telemarketing calls.

There are exceptions under the law: Telemarketing calls are allowed in response to a consumer's previous request; when they concern an existing debt or a contract or when a previous business relationship exists; when they're made on behalf of charities or fraternal organizations, or when they're made by veterans groups or political candidates.

Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for the Tribune-Review.

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