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Carolina No-Call Bill Riles Operators

Cable operators and publishers have joined forces to battle a no-call bill in North Carolina — a measure that's already been weakened by exemptions, opponents argue.

House Bill 1612, touted by state attorney general Roy Cooper, already exempts non-profit groups, charities and political parties from the provision against unsolicited phone calls.

More recent drafts allow contact by businesses that have had a relationship with a consumer within 18 months of the call, or if the call is to arrange a face-to-face meeting.

Bill backers are stalwart in their refusal to exempt media from the anti-telemarketing bill.

"The North Carolina Telecommunications Association opposes the bill because it restricts its members' ability to communicate with potential customers about its news, information and entertainment services," said Mark Prak, lawyer for the trade group, who is also representing the publishers.

Telemarketing is vital to the print publishing industry, as data has shown that magazines and newspapers receive 60 percent of new subscribers via telephone solicitation. Cable operators have not come up with a figure on the effects of telephone solicitation.

North Carolina already has a two-year-old telemarketing ban, but newspapers, magazines and cable companies are exempt from that measure. The current proposal would amend that no-call bill.

The amended law creates a $5,000 penalty for a business that contacts a consumer who has put his or her number on the state's no-contact list. That list will be maintained by the consumer protection division of the state attorney general's office. There is a good faith exemption to the fine for companies that mistakenly contact consumers.

Currently, there are 22 states with no-call laws, but nine of those exclude the media, citing First Amendment grounds.

But the North Carolina publishers face competition from industries as diverse as car dealers, insurance companies and realtors, all of which seek exemptions.

The bill is currently presently before the House's Judiciary Committee, where opponents hope it will die unless sponsors accept amendments.