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Do-Not-Call Back On The Line

People who do not want to be disturbed by telemarketing calls can resume signing up for the government's do-not-call list.

The Federal Trade Commission said it would resume accepting numbers Thursday after shutting down new registration last week in response to a federal court order that blocked the agency from operating the list that already contains than 52 million phone numbers.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver temporarily blocked the lower court's decision Tuesday, allowing the registry to restart.

"This is a victory for the FTC because it can now enforce its rules to a certain extent while the appellate process moves forward," Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen said after the ruling.

The FTC said Wednesday that consumers can register home or cell phone numbers with the free government service by visiting the Web site or calling 1-888-382-1222, beginning Thursday at 8 a.m. EDT.

Consumers who registered before Aug. 31 can file complaints about telemarketers at the same Internet site and toll-free number, starting Saturday at 6 p.m. EDT.

People who add new numbers have to wait three months before filing a complaint and it might take that long for them to see a reduction in telemarketing calls. Telemarketers calling listed numbers could face thousands of dollars in fines for each violation.

The list is intended to block about 80 percent of telemarketing calls, with exemptions for charities, pollsters and calls on behalf of politicians. A company also may call people on the list if it recently has done business with them.

A legal saga has enveloped the program for more than two weeks, involving the White House, Congress and several federal courts.

The list is moving ahead for now, but the court fight continues. An appeals court will hear oral arguments in Tulsa, Okla., on Nov. 10 on lower court rulings that the FTC lacks authority to run the program and the list violates telemarketers' free-speech rights by barring calls from businesses but not charities.

The 10th Circuit Court on Wednesday granted a request by the Justice Department to intervene in the case. The department said it wanted to file a brief arguing that the do-not-call list is constitutional.

"This could be an appeal that lasts for years," said Cohen.

"I think it's possible to read this ruling as a sign from the 10th Circuit that ultimately it will rule in favor of the FTC, but it's certainly not a guarantee. There are different standards in play," the legal analyst said. "I think all the court is saying is that it's not going to be the end of the world if the rules are enforced while the appeal is pending."

Federal officials worked around a court decision blocking the list to get it operating on schedule last week and many telemarketers agreed to abide by it despite the legal confusion. Even though improvised government fixes left holes in the list's protections, the steps appear to have made a difference.

"We have heard that for many who put phone numbers on the national registry, it's already working," FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said at a news conference. "The phones are ringing less often, the house is a little quieter and there are fewer interruptions during dinner and homework."

The Direct Marketing Association, the largest telemarketing association, said the decline in calls shows that government enforcement is unnecessary, and the industry can police itself.

The Federal Communications Commission, which stepped in to handle all do-not-call enforcement while the FTC was restrained, has received about 2,000 complaints since the list went into effect Oct. 1, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said. He said that while the volume of complaints appears to be declining, the agency has already begun investigating telemarketer violations of the do-not-call list.

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