New rules could affect telemarketing jobs

PORTLAND (AP) – Consumers may be applauding new government rules and do-not-call lists that will restrict who telemarketers can call and when.

But some are worried that all those new rules – on both the state and federal levels – could threaten Maine’s telemarketing industry and its 8,200 jobs.

State Sen. Neria Douglass, D-Auburn, doesn’t want telemarketing regulation to have a negative impact on Maine businesses.

“I am concerned,” she said.

Telemarketing was one of the fastest-growing sectors in Maine in the mid-1990s. The Maine Department of Labor said telemarketing jobs topped out at 9,600 jobs in the summer of 2000.

The struggling economy has taken a bite out of the industry since then, eliminating 15 percent of the jobs in Maine.

Besides the economy, the telemarketing industry now has to contend with new regulations that could severely hamstring the industry.

The Federal Trade Commission in October will implement its new do-not-call list. The list is expected to put 60 million of the nation’s 150 million phone households off limits to most telemarketers, said FTC spokeswoman Cathy MacFarlane.

Other government rules prevent telemarketers from blocking caller ID features and place limits on when they can call people.

Louis Mastria, director of public and international affairs for the Direct Marketing Association in New York, said his organization is worried about the cost of the FTC list to companies.

If a telemarketer has 100 clients, it can’t share the list among those clients – the FTC says it will have to buy a list for each client. Suddenly the $7,200 fee for the FTC list becomes $720,000, Mastria said.

He added that the FTC’s do-not-call list does not apply to financial institutions, such as banks and credit card companies, and telecommunications, such as long-distance phone companies.

Mastria said the new regulations will likely raise prices for items sold by telemarketers and lead to job losses, but said it’s too early to predict how many.

Rangeley Lake Resort, a time-share development in Maine, builds a call list from people who fill out entries to win a car or cash at the Maine Mall. On the back of the entry slip, the details spell out that the giveaway is connected to the development.

Perry Williams, the managing partner of the resort, says that’s considered “permission-based marketing” and is exempted from do-not-call rules.

“That’s where everything is headed,” he said, and about 60 percent of the resort’s calls are drawn from the list of entrants.

Maine’s biggest telemarketer is MBNA, the Delaware-based credit card issuer, which has more than 4,000 employees in Maine.

Carolyn Marsh, a spokeswoman for the company, says MBNA supports the do-not-call list, even though it is not governed by the FTC effort.

Weeding out people who are going to react negatively to any telemarketing call makes the process “much more efficient for us.”

Marsh said notes that telemarketing is just one tool that MBNA uses to reach potential customers. Others include direct mail, marketing at events and working through affiliates, such as alumni associations or clubs, who endorse affinity cards.

AP-ES-04-22-03 0216EDT

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