BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho land-line phone companies contend a 13-year-old law forbidding them from cold-calling existing customers is crippling their ability to market high-speed Internet.
Frontier Communications, headquartered in Minnesota, and Louisiana-based Century Link Inc., are pushing to revamp Idaho's 2000 law to halt unwanted phone solicitation. The law restricted phone companies from calling existing customers who requested telemarketing peace.
At the time, long-distance carriers such as U.S. Sprint pushed for that restriction, arguing Idaho's main phone company at the time, US West, would otherwise enjoy the unfair advantage of continuing to contact its 500,000 Idaho customers to market services.
Frontier and Century Link insist those long-distance wars are history — and that they'll use any new calling privileges appropriately, to not anger customers they want to buy faster Internet. The telecoms also argue that Idaho's cable companies, their fiercest competition for Internet services, aren't bound by the same restrictions, which tilts the playing field.
"We're basically asking to be treated like any other commercial service provider," said Jack Phillips, a Frontier spokesman in Burnsville, Minn., whose company has 100,000 rural customers in northern Idaho. "It's especially important where we're making high-speed Internet available in new markets, and we're limited in not being able to inform customers by phone."
Frontier has hired a former Idaho legislator, Rep. Jim Clark of Hayden, to help convince legislators to go along.
After learning of Frontier's and Century Link's plans, however, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's office raised concerns consumers won't be happy to see long-held privacy protections pared back.
There are about a million numbers on Idaho's "Do Not Call" list, said Brett DeLange, chief of the attorney general's consumer protection bureau that helps enforce phone solicitation laws.
"Of those million numbers, our office has never had one person call us and say, 'We'd like to be called some more,'" DeLange said. "People didn't take the time to sign up on the 'Do Not call' list to have the phone company now call them during their dinner hour."
The Idaho Cable Telecommunications Association, representing cable companies including Cable One and Time Warner, meets Tuesday in Boise for the first time to discuss the phone companies' deregulation gambit, said the group's lobbyist, Ron Williams.