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Congress bars 'automatic removal' of Do-Not-Call list numbers

Bill overturns 2003 federal rules requiring Americans to reregister their digits every five years or face unwanted telemarketer calls. It now goes to the president for final approval.

Let the telemarketer-free dinner table conversations continue.

Congress on Wednesday gave its final approval to a bill that would prohibit "automatic" removal of phone numbers from the national Do-Not-Call registry, which is designed to allow consumers to opt out of receiving unsolicited sales calls.

The bill, called the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007, now goes to the White House for the president's signature.

The latest action is a direct response to concerns from consumer advocates and politicians that under rules established in June 2003 by the Federal Trade Commission, Americans would have been forced to reregister their digits every five years.

The Do-Not-Call Improvement Act effectively overturns that rule. It says numbers can only be removed from the registry under two conditions: with permission from the individual assigned it, or if the FTC determines, based on periodic checks, that the numbers have been disconnected, reassigned, or are otherwise "invalid."

The FTC last fall pledged not to drop those numbers "pending final congressional or agency action on whether to make registration permanent."

Congress on Wednesday evening also signed off on a related bill that gives the FTC indefinite authority to continue collecting fees of up to $17,050 from each telemarketer to bankroll the program. The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), said that approach "keeps the program free, simple and effective for consumers."

More than 150 million numbers are currently on the list, according to Pryor's office.