No call’ signup begins July 1

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 7, 2003

[5/7/03]Mississippi residents will be able to sign up starting July 1 with the Mississippi Public Service Commission to try to stop some telemarketers from calling their homes.

When lawmakers passed the state’s version of “no call” legislation this year, it triggered creation of the list for phone customers to be maintained by the PSC.

Central District Commissioner Nielsen Cochran said policies and procedures are still being worked out. The goal, however, is for telemarketing firms not exempt from the law to be punished if they don’t take steps to make sure no one on the state’s list is phoned.

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“If you’re tired of those people calling and harassing you day and night, you can call us and be put on the list,” Cochran said.

Cochran and the other two elected PSC commissioners have been going around the state talking about the new law. They were in Vicksburg Tuesday. Their presentation is being shown on TV23.

Under the law, most telemarketers must purchase the list before making calls into Mississippi. The list will cost telemarketers $800 annually, and if they call anyone on the list, the company could be fined up to $5,000 per call.

Some entities are exempt from the new law and can still call homes placed on the “no call” list. Those groups include religious and charitable organizations, Realtors, car dealers, insurance agents, newspapers, funeral homes, brokers, Mississippi banks and companies people have done business with in the past six months.

An example, of how these exemptions might apply would be if a person switches long-distance telephone service providers. The previous provider would be allowed to call the home for up to six months under the exemptions.

Southern District Commissioner Michael Callahan said that if a listed person gets an illegal call, he will still have to answer the phone and talk to the telemarketer in order to prosecute. He said the commission can also get phone records.

“The biggest way to stop these people will be to pop some of these companies with violations,” Callahan said.

Once the public service commission begins taking names and numbers, people will be able to sign up by calling a toll-free number, on the Internet, by calling the local PSC office in Jackson or by writing to the PSC.

The PSC will then send a package of information to the person and will verify that he or she wants to be included on the list. Cochran said the list will be held by the PSC and will not be made available to anyone except telemarketers who are required to buy the list. He said it will also be illegal for the telemarketers to sell the list or use it in any other way. “The success of this bill is going to depend on the cooperation and assistance of the public,” Cochran said.

The bill that creates the “no call” list has an automatic repealer in two years, which means that the Legislature will have to vote on it again in 2005.