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The usefulness of "do not" signs


By Scott Bradner


Many years after it became clear to most of the US population that it needed to be done, the federal do not call list is almost here.  Those whose business model is predicated on interrupting your dinner are crying foul and have gone to court to try to stop the list from becoming operational.  But finally the data-gathering phase has started and, if the courts do not intervene, the number of unwanted calls will plummet on October 1st.


The idea is simple: let the person who has to answer a phone be able to say that they do not want to get calls on that phone from telemarketers.  But simple is not how things turned out. 


At least it is simple to register the phone numbers.  Just go to and follow the instructions.  Almost 3/4 of a million numbers were registered the first day the service was enabled in spite of severe server overloading.  My registrations went through in a few minutes early in the day but some people reported not being able to get through or long delays before they got the confirmation email messages.  The FCC estimates that up to 60 million  phone numbers will be registered over the next year.


 So what is wrong with this picture?  Basically, "do not call" does not mean "do not call".  It actually means: "most people, do not call." Politicians, opinion surveys, and charities will still be able to call, as will companies who think they have a business relationship to you.  I predict the last exception will be rather over exploited.  Note to politicians: when I say "do not call" I mean it, any call to me will ensure I will not vote for you.  Note to charities, a call will ensure I do not contribute.  Note to business who think that they have a business relationship with me: a call will ensure that you will not.


There is another side to the story.  The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) says that the feds maintaining a do not call list is bad for me and may be unconstitutional.  Since they also maintain such a list (or at least claim to, I could not find it on the web page, complaining about the federal one seems a bit of a stretch.


Reports in the press say that the telemarketing industry fear that the inability to get you out of the shower or up from dinner will devastate its business and will cause lots of people to lose their jobs.  I have sympathy for the people who will be looking for new jobs but the complaint rings a bit hollow.  It is like someone hirling a bunch of people to urinate on the front doors of strangers and then threatening layoffs when the homeowners get permission to put up 'do not urinate' signs.  They also complain that my being able to put up a 'do not urinate' sign is a violation of their rights - I don't think so.


It is well past time for this service to be running, but better late than never.


disclaimer:  "Late" may a different concept in a 367 year old institution but the above is my opinion, not Harvard's.