USA Today


Industry Provides Service

September 17, 2002

By Matt Mattingley for USA TODAY


Bashing the telemarketing industry seems to have become a fashionable sport recently, as politicians, bureaucrats and the news media have laid the evils of the civilized world at the feet of telemarketers. Blame for the spread of the West Nile Virus can't be far behind.

Why is this? Telemarketers are basically good people trying to earn a living. They provide a service that millions of Americans embrace every year. They provide flexible employment to millions more, including large numbers of retirees, college students, minorities, single mothers, the disabled and those who need to supplement their household incomes. The industry provides a huge shot in the arm to a struggling economy. But what do you suppose would be the likely outcome of a National Hug Your Telemarketer campaign?

Part of the answer lies in the mythical stereotype perpetuated by the media. Last year, 180 million Americans made purchases from telemarketers. Why is it when the media do ''balanced'' stories they can never seem to find even one of those 180 million? Ambitious politicians looking for a cheap headline pass all sorts of laws restricting telemarketing while quietly exempting themselves from every one of them. Bureaucrats such as the lawyers at the Federal Trade Commission, who have never spent a day in the business world, delight in devising guidelines to govern how business should work.

Take the proposed national ''do not call'' registry that the government will soon foist upon the nation. We already have a national do-not-call policy that is company-specific and has been in effect since 1991. Many states now have their own versions of do-not-call lists. The new proposal replaces none of them. We'll just throw one more meaningless program on the pile to appease the bureaucratic wolves. And they don't work. All of these laws are replete with exemptions for favored entities, giving government, not the marketplace, the right to pick who gets to play ball.

Privacy is offered as the latest justification for these governmental intrusions. In the name of privacy, we are going to create yet another huge government database containing the personal information of millions of Americans. Right. And this is a good deal?

Matt Mattingley is director of government affairs for the American Teleservices Association, based in Washington.