With much fanfare, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is launching a national "do not call" list that will let consumers opt out of most telemarketing calls. Of course, someone must administer the list so the government let the project out for bids.
And who might the winner be?
It's none other than a division of AT&T, the long-distance company that has probably interrupted more family dinners than any other telemarketer. Nevertheless, the FTC awarded a six-month, $3.5 million contract to AT&T Government Solutions. The contract is renewable for up to 10 years and the total price will depend on how many people sign up.
There's little doubt the AT&T subsidiary has the know-how and resources to set up and run the database. After all, AT&T already has just about everyone's number and if it wanted to search its own records could probably find the consumers who've demanded that they be taken off the telemarketing lists -- a hunch that was confirmed today by The Washington Post.
The Post reported that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data show that 5,714 consumer complaints were lodged against AT&T's telemarketing activities in 2001, 2002 and the first three months of 2003. That's 22 percent more than the number of complaints about MCI, AT&T's perennial Number 2.
The Post said it had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get the data. the FCC publishes overall reports on complaints but does not list the complaints by company unless asked to do so.
An FTC official admitted she was not surprised AT&T topped the complaint list but defended awarding the contract to the company.
"AT&T had the best proposal at the best price," Eileen Harrington told the Post. She said the "irony of the fact that it was an AT&T subsidiary was not lost on us."
There's another irony in all this as well -- as the rules are now written, AT&T is not required the observe the do-not-call list because, like other telecommunications companies, it is regulated by the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, not the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission.
Congress has ordered the FCC to make a decision by September on whether the telecommunications firms should be bound by the do-not-call rules.