The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to fine AT&T $780,000 for violating do-not-call provisions that have been in effect for more than ten years. The fine is for a long-existing but widely ignored rule that requires individual companies to delete the names of consumers who specifically ask a company to stop calling them.
AT&T should be able to afford the fine. It won a $3.5 million contract to set up -- you guessed it -- the Do-Not-Call registry a few months ago. The initial six-month contract can be renewed for up to ten years.
While the action is not part of the recently-enacted Do Not Call registry, it is an indication that the FCC has taken note of the political clout represented by the 54 million Americans who have signed for the Do-Not-Call list.
The irony was not lost on the telemarketing industry, whose spokesmen rushed to say that if the FCC had enforced existing regulations the broader Do-Not-Call registry might not have been needed.
"For a decade they haven't done their job. Now they're adding new regulation," Tim Searcy of the American Teleservices Association told The New York Times.
The commission says it received 360 complaints about AT&T from December 2002 to August 2003 from consumers who had previously informed AT&T that they did not want any more telemarketing calls from the company.
The fine is calculated at $10,000 each for 78 calls placed to 29 of the complaining consumers. The fine could have been as high as $250,000 per call violation under FCC rules but an FCC spokesman said that $10,000 was the figure it had used previously in cases involving unsolicited faxes.
The proposed fine is meant to be an indication that the commission, long derided by consumer advocates as being asleep at the wheel, has gotten the message that voters are fed up with incessant telemarketing calls.
"We have made enforcement of the Do-Not-Call lists our No. 1 priority," said David Solomon, head of the commission's enforcement bureau.
Since late June, 54.3 million Americans have signed up for the Do-Not-Call registry and have so far filed 56,000 complaints alleging they received calls after the cut-off date.