By BARBARA KOLB
Advances in technology have motivated lawmakers in Wisconsin to propose a bill adding text messages to a list that prevents unsolicited telemarketing campaigns. Senate Bill 185 passed by a voice vote rather than a written ballot in the Senate on Oct. 25, 2011. It now awaits approval by the Assembly as Bill 250.
The original No Call List in Wisconsin became law on Jan. 1, 2003. It provided protection for residential consumers from telemarketing calls on their personal landlines once they place their phone number on this list.
On June 6, 2008 the law expanded to include a ban on unsolicited telemarketing calls to residential cellular phones. This change was in response to numerous complaints from people whose cell phone plan minutes were being used up by unwanted telephone sales calls.
Currently, Bill 250 has been introduced to the Assembly in the final step to amend the current law. Supporters of the bill want wording added to the law to clearly affirm the inclusion of text messages in the ban. This portion of the bill states, “…[It] also includes the unsolicited initiation of a text message for the purpose of encouraging the recipient of the text message to purchase property, goods, or services.”
Van H. Wanggaard, a Republican senator from Racine, co-sponsored the bill with Republican Rep. Warren Petryk of Eleva. In his testimony before the Senate, Wanggaard said, “…for many Wisconsin consumers, unsolicited text messages are now becoming just as upsetting as unsolicited phone calls were at the turn of the century. These text messages rise above a minor annoyance — they arrive at every hour of the day and night, and often become an unplanned expense on consumers’ cell phone bills.”
Not only will the amendment of the No Call List reduce the number of telemarketer calls to cell phones, but Sen. Wanggaard feels it will also help protect consumers’ privacy, as they receive fewer unwanted calls and text messages.
James Maitland, 29, of Milwaukee expressed concerns on maintaining privacy that coincide with those of Sen. Wanggard. “Phone. Email. Text. All of it should be on the No Call List,” Maitland said. “Why should I be bothered at home. I already have to watch it on TV or at the movies.”
The program does not guarantee the end of all telemarketing calls, only the reduction of them. The No Call List is updated quarterly, so it may take 30-120 days for telemarketers to break contact.
Jennifer Foster, a senior graphic design student at Mount Mary College, is very supportive of the potential addition of text messages to the No Call List. Foster has listed her home phone number on the No Call registry, yet is still contacted by telemarketers periodically. Three weeks ago she received a missed call from Oregon on her home phone. When she redialed the number, a voice message revealed it was a sales call. “It happened again yesterday that I got a call from an Oregon number. It ticked me off,” Foster said.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, telemarketers who violate the legal restrictions are subject to a fine of $100 per incident. Consumers can call the DATCP at 1-800-422-7128 to report telemarketing calls they continue to receive after they have logged their number with the DATCP.
Foster looked into filing a complaint against the telemarketer, but found “the paperwork outrageously long to report the company.” The form required her to log the time and date of the call(s), who called, with whom she talked and more. Foster felt the time invested in reporting a violator was more of an annoyance that just ignoring the unknown caller.
“As telemarketers and scammers adapt to new forms of communication, we must keep our consumer protections up to date,” Wanggaard said in his Oct. 25, 2011 press release. “Adding text messages to the Do Not Call list is a common sense measure, and I’m glad it passed [the Senate] with bipartisan support.”
Once signed into law, all cell numbers currently registered on the No Call List will be automatically updated to include text messages. To place a personal landline and/or cellular phone number on the No Call List, call 1-866-966-2255 or register online at www.nocall.wisconsin.gov. Registration must be repeated every two years.