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FTC, FCC energized by 'do not call' list appellate ruling

The Federal Trade Commission's national "do not call" registry enabling consumers to opt out of receiving commercial telemarketing calls is "fully up and running" and is the commission's "top enforcement priority," FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said Wednesday.

"With the decision of last night, we can proceed on all cylinders," Muris said, referring to the ruling handed down by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

"The team rides again," said FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who joined Muris at a news conference.

Powell cautioned that the registry was "not completely out of the woods" because the appeals court had yet to decide the case on the merits. But Powell said he was becoming increasingly confident that the appeals court, which Tuesday stayed U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham's injunction blocking implementation of the list, ultimately would overturn Nottingham's decision that the list was unconstitutional.

"I just refuse to believe that the Constitution of the United States shuts down the consumers' ability to protect the sanctity of their homes," Powell said.

Nottingham ruled last month that the list violated telemarketers' free speech rights because it prohibited them from making calls of a commercial nature to consumers who had registered their telephone numbers on the list, but did not bar organizations seeking charitable or political contributions from calling those consumers.

"I think the court's wise decision puts us back in full automated mode again," Powell said of the appeals court ruling. Nottingham's rulings did not preclude the FCC from enforcing its existing rules aimed at protecting consumers from unwanted telemarketing calls. But Muris and Powell have said those rulings would have prevented the FTC from sharing the do-not-call registry directly with the FCC.

The FCC does not yet have access to the FTC's registry database, because the FTC is in the process of reactivating its automated system for sharing the list, according to Muris. "It's not like turning on and off a light," Muris said. "It will take a little while." But very shortly, he said, his agency will able to share the list with the FCC.

Muris noted the appeals court placed the case on an "extremely fast schedule," ordering the FTC to file its opening briefs by Oct. 17 and setting oral arguments for Nov. 10. Muris said he did not expect any other legal developments to block the list again between now and the appeals court's ruling on the merits.

Consumers who have not already added their telephone numbers to the do-not-call list can do so beginning Thursday morning, Muris said. Telemarketers who have not obtained the list can gain access to it beginning Friday morning.

"Telemarketers who already have the list are expected to comply immediately," Muris said. "Those who do not yet have it will be given until Oct. 17 to come into compliance."