PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: New FTC website answers the public's call

WASHINGTON: Last week, Harry Potter met his match. And the tweener wizard could not have been thwarted by a more unlikely force: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

WASHINGTON: Last week, Harry Potter met his match. And the tweener wizard could not have been thwarted by a more unlikely force: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC last week unveiled Donotcall.gov, a website that enables Americans to block nearly all unsolicited commercial phone calls to their home numbers for five years. The FTC also set up a toll-free number for the same purpose. According to web search engine Lycos, "do not call" was by far its most commonly searched term last week. It was twice as popular as the engine's second most common term, "Harry Potter," and shot to the top spot the first day it was unveiled. As a release by Lycos put it, "No matter how much love Americans have for Harry Potter, that love is far outweighed by the contempt they have for telemarketers." For Donotcall.gov, the FTC wins the PR Play of the Week. During the past decade, advancements in automated dialing devices and plummeting long-distance prices have led to explosive growth in the telemarketing industry. Yet the steady stream of unsolicited phone calls has led to a mountain of resentment on the part of consumers. The media coverage of the website seemed to feed that demand, as over 10 million phone numbers had been registered in just the site's first four days. No doubt anticipating the popular response to the initiative, President Bush dispensed with his usual low regard for any new federal government initiative to herald in the Do Not Call program. "When Americans are sitting down to dinner, or a parent is reading to his or her child, the last thing they need is a call from a stranger with a sales pitch," Bush said in a White House Rose Garden ceremony. Even those responsible for the rollout appeared floored by the tidal wave of response. "This is really a phenomenal response," Eileen Harrington, the FTC's director of marketing practices told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "There is an enormous enthusiasm and pent-up demand for this service."

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