Comcast, DirectTV Pay Telemarketing Fines

Comcast and DirecTV have agreed to pay US$3.2 million to settle separate charges that they violated the do-not-call provisions of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's Telemarketing Sales Rule, including calling consumers who asked not to be called again, the FTC said Thursday.

DirecTV, a provider of satellite television and Internet service, will pay $2.3 million, and Comcast, a provider of cable TV and Internet service, will pay $900,000 for violating do-not-call rules, the FTC said. In addition, a DirecTV telemarketer has agreed to pay a $115,000 fine for making prerecorded sales calls to consumers who had asked not to be called, the FTC said.

A 2005 court order had barred DirecTV from do-not-call violations. The company paid $5.3 million to settle the 2005 FTC complaint.

"In both of these cases, DirecTV and Comcast violated consumers' privacy by calling people who specifically had asked these companies not to call them again," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. "What makes DirecTV's actions especially troubling is that it is a two-time offender. Simply put, we won't tolerate firms that disregard consumers' specific requests not to be called, and we will be especially tough on companies that ignore their obligations under prior court orders."

Comcast's compliance with the National Do Not Call Registry was more than 99.8 percent, said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast's executive director for corporate communications and government affairs. The settlement addresses alleged calls made to people on Comcast's internal do-not-call list, where compliance was about 99.7 percent, she said.

"Both compliance percentages are greater than those reported by the FTC to Congress last year as evidencing 'highly effective' performance," Fitzmaurice added. "Since the period under review, we have further strengthened our policies and procedures to prevent unwanted telemarketing calls."

DirecTV attributed the problem to a misunderstanding about a prerecorded campaign. "The judgment was related to a brief calling campaign conducted in 2007 to determine whether we had correctly recorded customers' do-not-call status," the company said in a statement. "We believed in good faith that these prerecorded messages were permitted at the time because we were not attempting to sell anything. The FTC disagreed, and we concluded it was in our best interest to settle rather than engage in costly, time-consuming litigation."

The DirecTV campaign, using telemarketer Voicecast Systems, made more than 1 million calls to consumers in August and September 2007, the FTC said. Voicecast, operating under the name InTouch Solutions, directed its campaign at consumers who had previously asked DirecTV not to call them again, the FTC said.

Consumers were told that "from time to time [DirecTV] extends exciting offers to our loyal customers like you, but because you are on the DirecTV do-not-call list, we are not able to contact you for these exciting offers." The message then told call recipients to "press one" to remove their numbers from the company's do-not-call list.

The FTC alleged that Comcast used in-house call centers and outside telemarketing contractors to make calls to sell Comcast's cable television, Internet, and VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) telephone services. Comcast representatives made more than 900,000 calls to consumers after those consumers specifically asked that the company stop calling them, the FTC said.

Last month, the FTC announced a complaint against Dish Network and two of its telemarketers alleging that they violated the Do Not Call Rule by calling consumers whose phone numbers are on the National Do Not Call Registry. Those cases are pending in court.

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