WASHINGTON - People pestered by telemarketers can start signing up Friday for a national do-not-call list intended to block most phone sales pitches.
Consumers can register for the free government service by visiting the Web site www.donotcall.gov. Telephone registration using a toll-free number - 1-888-382-1222 - is available in states west of the Mississippi River, including Minnesota and Louisiana, the Federal Trade Commission said. Nationwide registration should be available by July 7.
The national registry, an FTC project more than a year in the making, was being inaugurated Friday at a White House ceremony led by President Bush.
The list will block about 80 percent of telemarketing calls, FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said.
"People own their homes and their phones and now they will have a choice about whether they want the calls," Muris said in an interview.
Telephone registration is being done in stages to ensure the system can handle the volume of calls expected, the FTC said. The commission expects up to 60 million phone numbers to be registered in the first year.
"I think this has been a complaint of consumers for a very long time," Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell said on NBC's "Today." "This is a day they've awaited for a long time."
People who sign up this summer should see a decrease in telemarketing calls after the FTC begins enforcing the do-not-call list on Oct. 1, said Muris, who joined Powell on NBC.
"We are going to assign dozens of people to enforce this very important rule," Muris said.
Registrations will have to be renewed every five years.
On the Web site, people will have to provide the phone number they want protected and an e-mail address to receive confirmation. Consumers calling the toll-free number will have to call from the telephone number they want to register.
Telemarketers attempt up to 104 million calls every day, according to the FCC.
The industry has said the registry will devastate their business and has sued the FTC, saying the program amounts to an unlawful restriction on free speech.
The FCC voted 5-0 Thursday to add its authority to the do-not-call list, blocking telemarketing calls from within a state - the FTC could only police interstate calls - and from industries whose calls the agency regulates, including airlines, banks and telephone companies.
Of the states with do-not-call lists, 13 plan to add their lists of 8.1 million numbers to the national registry this summer, three have legislation pending to allow them to share, and 11 will not share the information, the FTC said. Consumers on state lists added to the national one need not register again.
Beginning in September, telemarketers will have to check the list every three months to see who doesn't want to be called. Those who call listed people could be fined up to $11,000 for each violation. Consumers would file complaints to an automated phone or online system.
Exemptions from the list include calls from charities, pollsters and on behalf of politicians. Registered consumers also can give written permission to get calls from certain companies.
A company also may call someone on the no-call list if that person has bought, leased or rented from the company within the past 18 months. Telemarketers also may call people if they have inquired about or applied for something from the company during the past three months.
But consumers can avoid those calls by asking to be put on an individual company's do-not-call list.
Congress authorized the FTC to collect up to $18.1 million from telemarketers to pay the program's expenses in the first year.