Opt-In Wireless Directory Advances in Senate


WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee narrowly approved
legislation Wednesday intended to protect wireless customers from having
their cellular numbers listed without their consent in a proposed national
E411 directory.


Led by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), five
of the country’s six largest cellular carriers are planning a wireless
directory to be rolled out early next year. According to the CTIA, the
program requires consumers to opt-in to the system and there will be no
charge to be either listed or unlisted in the directory.


Despite the CTIA’s assurances of privacy protections and an opt-in regime,
the committee voted 12-10 to approve the Wireless 411 Privacy Act (S. 1963).
Sponsored by Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the
legislation now goes to the Senate for a full vote.


“This bill is very, very straightforward. It basically says if there is
going to be a wireless directory, then every cell phone user has to approve
being listed in that directory,” Boxer said.


Boxer expressed concern about cell phone contracts that currently allow for
a customer’s number to be listed in a directory. Although the CTIA said new
contracts do not have that provision, Boxer questioned the status of
existing contracts.


“[Carriers] say they’ve seen the light, they have a new contract and new
language is now operable. Well and good, but the old contract is still in
effect,” Boxer said. “If we wait until chaos breaks out, I hate to see what
will happen.”


Several senators on the panel, though, questioned the need for federal
legislation, saying the intensely competitive wireless industry would not
risk losing customers by releasing numbers without consent.


“There’s 180 wireless providers competing in this country and 93 percent of
all Americans live in markets with four or more wireless providers,” Sen.
George Allen (R-VA) said. “[If one company] releases numbers, you just
switch to another.” At a hearing on the bill Tuesday afternoon, Allen said,
“Each customer should have the right to decide if they want to be part of a
directory.”


Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) said the legislation was a solution in search of a
problem, stressing CTIA’s pledge to make the directory opt-in in the first
place.


CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent weighed in after the vote in a prepared
statement: “Fire, ready, aim is the approach the Senate Commerce Committee
took today on legislating Wireless 411 service. This is a service that has
yet to be introduced.” At the Wednesday hearing, Largent called the bill
needless.


The Specter-Boxer bill has received the support of both the Consumers Union
and AARP. In a recent AARP survey, only five percent of cell phone users
over the age of 65 said they would not want their numbers listed in a
wireless phone directory. Among all cell phone users, according to AARP,
nine out of ten said they consider the lack of a wireless directory a
positive.


“Cell phone subscribers have many incentives to keep their numbers private,”
David Certner, director of federal affairs for AARP, said in a statement.
“Wireless service providers, unlike their landline counterparts, charge for
incoming as well as outgoing calls.”


In the House, similar legislation drafted by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) is
expected to get a hearing next week in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

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