Not a wrong number

AT&T sees more Web hosting work from Do Not Call project

Thwarting telemarketers was just the first step when AT&T Corp. took on the National Do Not Call Registry two years ago.

The project has topped 100 million registrants, and AT&T's government unit sees the project as a springboard to more work consolidating and linking consumer data.

Launched June 27, 2003, the phone number registry, which gives consumers a free and simple way of limiting unwanted telemarketing calls, reached the 100 million registrant milestone in August and now has more than 102 million registrants, AT&T said. The registry was built to handle only 60 million registrations.

AT&T, which won a 10-year, $3.5 million Federal Trade Commission contract in February 2003 to build the registry, believes the technology can be used for FTC's other consumer information such as consumer complaints, and that it can link those systems to data in the National Do Not Call Registry, said Linda Miller, program manager for AT&T Government Solutions Inc. in Vienna, Va.

"If we could do that, it would open the door to begin integrating many other federal systems," she said.

A possible next step, Miller said, would be to integrate all FTC's consumer information with data from the Federal Communications Commission, the independent U.S. government agency that regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable.

Connecting FTC and FCC databases would consolidate consumer complaints as well as let law enforcement officials share data, she said.

Once "we've shown that we can integrate from one federal group to another federal group, then there might be more," she said.

Similar opportunities may be available in other countries.

FTC put in a good word about AT&T's work on the registry with the Canadian parliament, which is considering its own do-not-call system. AT&T has offered consulting services to the Canadian government, Miller said.

AT&T is submitting recommendations and pricing to FTC, Miller said, to enhance the consumer registration and some of the system's other features as FTC examines its strategy for the upcoming year.

AT&T already has improved the system's consumer registration and complaint processes, as well as the systems that telemarketers use to interact with the phone registry.

The company also made privacy enhancements and took steps to ensure that the site meets government security standards.

Chris Hoofnagle, director and senior counsel of the San Diego office of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the registry a "spectacular success." Most consumers who have enrolled their numbers have seen a big reduction in unwanted calls.

Headquartered in Washington, EPIC is a public interest research center that focuses on emerging civil liberties issues, privacy protection, the First Amendment and constitutional values.

The registry can be improved, Hoofnagle said. Because enrollments expire after five years, AT&T could create a system to notify people about six months before their numbers would be deleted from the list, he said.

The National Do Not Call Registry lets consumers add their landline, mobile and fax numbers to a database to prevent direct marketers and other solicitors from dialing their private numbers.

They can call a toll-free number to register or do it online at www.donotcall.gov. The registry receives 12,000 to 30,000 registrations each day.

"No one really built this kind of system before as far as we could tell," said Woody Lons, an application architect at AT&T Government Solutions. "There was nothing out there in the marketplace remotely similar, so we had no idea what the peaks would be, what the usage would be."

The Do Not Call Registry is not the first bit of Web hosting AT&T has done for the federal government. The company also provides hosting and security services for the FirstGov.gov Web site under a five-year contract.

The FirstGov portal lets users search and access information from federal, state and local government agency Web sites.

FTC recently gave AT&T a letter of intent to exercise option year three of the registry contract.

The registry system also offers other Web services, such as Pay.Gov (www.pay.gov), which lets individuals and businesses securely and easily send electronic payments to the federal government.

Marketing firms must pay FTC for lists of phone numbers registered on the National Do Not Call Registry. More than 7,700 entities in fiscal 2004 paid fees totalling $14 million for access to the registry, according to a report FTC made to Congress last month on implementation of the registry.

Consumers who believe they have been the subject of a violation by a telemarketer can use the online registry to enter complaints, which are sent to FTC daily.

"One remarkable benefit is that it is a government system that actually works," Lons said. "It didn't cost a massive amount of money, and it just sits there and works."

Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at rgerin@postnewsweektech.com.

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