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Contrary to rumors, cell phone numbers not being released to telemarketers.

LAWRENCEVILLE - It's 7 a.m. and you're crawling down Ga. Highway 316 on the way to your cubicle. The cell phone rings and you dig through your purse for it, maneuvering the steering wheel while balancing a cup of coffee.

Now, imagine it's a telemarketer calling, eating up the minutes you pay for.

Cell phones are sacred. Only our families, friends and kids' schools have cell phone numbers - that's why we answer promptly.

An e-mail circulating on the Internet has generated enough worry to prompt the Federal Trade Commission to post a page-long notice on its Web site (www.ftc.gov).

The email reads: "REMINDER ... 16 days from today, all cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies and you will start to receive sales calls.

"YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR THESE CALLS.

"To prevent this, call the following number from your cell phone: 888-382-1222. It is the National Do Not Call list.

"It will only take a minute of your time, and it will block your number for five years."

Pat Pirkle, Buford, doesn't appreciate the idea of paying for someone else's advertising.

"My cell phone is the only privacy I have," Pirkle said. "I have a phone in my home, so I buy the least amount of minutes I can. Still, I pay extra for the privacy."

C. R. Hockaday, of Watkinsville, is tired of being interrupted by telemarketers, and doesn't want them on his cell phone.

"It's an inconvenience, especially when I'm on another call and they beep through and it's a telemarketer," Hockaday said.

As if the junk faxes that use up ink and paper and put wear and tear on the machine weren't enough. Are telemarketers now allowed one more avenue by which to annoy the average person? Will cell phone users have to pay for the call, too, adding injury to insult?

No, according to Bill Edge, public information officer with the Georgia Public Service Commission. Contrary to rumors, cell phone numbers are not being released to

telemarketers.

"That is an urban legend that is not true," Edge said. "House Bill 1290, the Georgia Telephone Records Protection Act, makes the sale of telephone numbers a felony. Senate Bill 455, the Telephone Records Privacy Protection Pact, makes it illegal for a telephone records broker to release information. SB 455 pertains to private investigators."

There is no deadline by which people must register their telephones, cell or land lines, with the "do not call" registry, according to Adam, a customer service representative with the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC is the agency of the federal government that manages the National Do Not Call Registry.

Georgia used to maintain its own "do not call" registry, which cost $5 to register. In December 2003, Georgia combined that service with the FTC's registry, saving taxpayers more than $1 million per year.

"We were paying someone to do the same thing the FTC does," Edge said. "People can register on either the Georgia Web site or the FTC's. It is free and the numbers remain on the registry for five years."

How to enroll

There is no separate do not call registry for cell phones. There is only one registry, and it lists both cell phones and land lines. A phone number, whether fax, home phone, cell or pager, can be registered two ways. Call 1-888-382-1222 (for TTY call 1-866-290-4236) from the phone you want to register. Or, register online at www.donotcall.gov. If you register online, you must respond to a confirmation e-mail. Registration is free, and it blocks telemarketers' calls for five years.

"There are three exceptions to the registry," Edge said. "Political candidates, charities and people you have a business relationship with, like banks and credit cards. For example, if you order flowers from Joe's Flower Shop, you have established a business relationship and they can call you."

Telemarketing companies are required to access the national registry every 90 days and filter out those numbers registered. More than 97 million Americans have registered with the registry since it opened in June 2003.

It's not exactly illegal for telemarketers to call cell phones, but federal restrictions make it time-consuming. Most telemarketers use automated dialers, rather than dialing each number by hand. Federal Communications Commission regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers.

International Readers League of Atlanta, a Norcross-based company that telemarkets magazines, uses a software program to bypass cell phone numbers and those listed on the registry. IRL employs about 30 telemarketers throughout various shifts from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Manager Ron Canup said the registry has been helpful to the business by saving telemarketers' time and bruised egos.

"We have special software in our system that scrubs and screens out cell phone numbers and the do not call list," Canup, a 17-year IRL employee, said. "The registry is a benefit to us because we are not calling people who do not want to be called. We don't get cussed out."

The future

Telecommunications industry officials are considering creating a wireless 411 directory. Individuals would have to "opt-in" if they wanted to be included in that directory.

Ed Mierzwinski, an advocate with the Public Interest Research Group in Washington, D.C., said PIRG is currently lobbying against Web sites that post private information, including cell phone numbers. He said cell customers can expect to find unauthorized advertising coming in the form of text messaging.

"Ads on cell phones are next," Mierzwinski said. "Programming is being developed so that when you walk past a store, the cell will get a text message advertising the store's products."

For the time being, cell phone customers don't have to worry about getting, and paying for, telemarketing phone calls, because sufficient safeguards are in place. Canup said his company has no plans to ever call cell phones.

"I have not heard that rumor, but if it were true, we wouldn't call cell phones, anyway," Canup said. "It is not the right thing to do. It eats up their minutes."