New Federal Trade Commission rule will let telephone customers avoid prerecorded telemarketing calls

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced a new rule governing telemarketing calls that feature prerecorded messages. Beginning Sept. 1, 2009, telemarketing companies must obtain call recipients' written permission before contacting them with a prerecorded message. More immediately, effective Dec. 1, 2008, prerecorded telephone marketing calls must have an opt-out mechanism so that recipients can elect not to receive those unsolicited calls in the future.

Telemarketers with pre-existing customer relationships will be allowed to continue using prerecorded messages to contact those customers only for one year after the rule is published in the Federal Register. At that time, telemarketing companies will need their customer's written permission before calling anyone with a prerecorded message.

Under the new regulations, charitable organizations can continue contacting their members or previous donors, but will need to offer an opt-out mechanism once the new rule goes into effect.

The FTC's new rule will not prohibit customers from receiving certain prerecorded informational calls, such as those which announce flight delay notifications, upcoming appointments, or similarly helpful information. These phone calls are unaffected by the new rule because they are not used to market products or services to the recipient. Healthcare-related phone calls also are exempt from the new regulations.

Under the new rule, the prerecorded telemarketing calls must:

  • allow the telephone to ring for at least 15 seconds or four rings before an unanswered call is disconnected;
  • begin the prerecorded message within two seconds of a completed greeting by the recipient;
  • disclose at the outset of the call that the recipient may ask to be placed on the company's do-not-call list at any time during the message;
  • in cases where the call is answered by a person, make an automated interactive voice and/or keypress-activated opt-out mechanism available during the message that adds the recipient's telephone number to the company's do-not-call list and then immediately ends the call; and
  • in cases where the call is answered by an answering machine or voicemail, provide a toll-free number that allows the recipient to be connected to an automated interactive voice and/or keypress-activated opt-out mechanism anytime after the message is received.

The new rule can be viewed online at