With complaints about telephone solicitors escalating, it’s becoming clear that a reluctant Legislature will have to act or risk a voter revolt. The key is finding the right remedy that protects everyone’s legitimate interests.
Although the House favors delaying action for a year of study, the Senate seems poised for action. The Senate Conference Committee this week unanimously approved a measure creating a "no-call list" that would allow consumers to opt out of uninvited calls.
Telemarketers would have to buy regularly updated versions of the list and honor them or face potential penalties.
The telemarketing industry points out that a one-size-fits-all ban would not only would hurt some businesses that rely on telephone sales, but also charities as well. Lori Fentem of the American Teleservice Association told senators on Wednesday that even some people who find those dinnertime calls generally offensive may buy a product or service over the phone if it interests them.
That no doubt is true, but unless the Legislature comes up with a workable compromise, public frustration may soon reach a breaking point. As Sen. Carolyn Allen, R-Scottsdale, put it, "It’s becoming so overwhelming for people that you almost want to yank your telephone out of the wall. So many of us would like to have these calls stop."
As pressure has built for a legislative remedy, various groups — including politicians, newspapers and charities — have pushed for exemptions.
As we’ve suggested before in this space, some exemptions may make sense — but let individual consumers make that call. Give them the option of being on a comprehensive no-call list, or allowing calls from, say, charities, political organizations or certain types of businesses.
Being able to select would protect everyone’s interests. Telemarketers wouldn’t be wasting time and money calling people who’ve said they don’t want their calls, and consumers would have more peace and quiet without banishing calls in which they’ve indicated an interest.
Meanwhile, consumers do have options — though all of them cost money. There’s caller ID and those "If you’re a telemarketer, please hang up now" messages.
But many consumers object to having to pay to block intrusions, and that is a driving force behind no-call proposals. Legislators should craft and pass a reasonable compromise before consumers’ patience runs out.