Cable Seeks 'Do Not Call' Exemption

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The cable industry wants to ensure that established operator-subscriber relationships are protected if the Federal Trade Commission proceeds with its proposed national "Do Not Call" list.

The proposal — announced in January — would allow consumers to call a toll-free FTC hotline to submit their name and phone number for a list of homes that telemarketers cannot call. The agency accepted public comments on the plan through April 15.

At stake for cable operators: The ability to upsell to subscribers — not just for premium channels or more expensive cable packages, but for new services with which customers might be unfamiliar, such as high-speed Internet access, video-on-demand or interactive television.

A number of states already have such lists. Direct-marketing trade groups have compiled national lists, but businesses are not required by law to adhere to them.

Some state lists exempt businesses with existing relationships with a particular customer from the "do not call" mandate, but there's no such clause in the FTC proposal. Consumers, however, can authorize exemptions for individual companies.

"The critical exclusion would effectively prevent companies from calling their own customers if the customer's number is on the national registry," the National Cable & Telecommunications Association wrote in its FTC filing last Monday.

Because new cable services are often rolled out neighborhood-by-neighborhood, television and newspaper ads often prove ineffective. And rising postal costs and increased mailbox clutter have made direct mail somewhat less effective over the years, some cable marketers said.

Telemarketing also holds an advantage in that it's a two-way street, said TeleSTAR Marketing Inc. president Art Saxon. People listening to a sales pitch can ask questions about products they don't yet understand and receive immediate answers.

TeleSTAR offers telemarketing services to operators and networks, including Home Box Office, Showtime Networks Inc. and Starz Encore Group LLC, Saxon said in an FTC filing in late March.

"In many instances, the people we contact are thankful for the call, which has educated them on new products and services, as well as offering them an opportunity to buy at a bargain rate," Saxon wrote.

In its filing, the NCTA argued that the proposed rule restricts a cable operator's ability to effectively conduct cross-marketing efforts with third-party vendors by precluding them from sharing customer-billing records. The NCTA said such restrictions would limit cable's involvement in multi-industry move programs that also involve newspapers and utilities.

The FTC's national Do Not Call registry would represent a modification to its Telemarketing Sales Rule, adopted in the late 1990s.

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