The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for Idaho to lift a 13-year-old restriction barring phone and cable TV companies from calling existing customers to market new products or services.
Phone companies were singled out with the restriction by Idaho lawmakers who worried they'd abuse their monopoly.
The vote of 65 to 5 now sends the measure to the Senate.
The Idaho attorney general's office opposes the bill, saying it is an unwanted intrusion on people's privacy.
The companies say they want to reach out to their customers. The people say they want to be left alone.
“It passed out of committee unanimously because we felt like that it discriminated against one type of business,” said Rep. Elaine Smith.
“The Attorney General is opposed to House Bill #55,” said Brett DeLange, Consumer Protection Division Chief, Office of the Idaho Attorney General. “It’s his view that it is erosion of Idahoans who’ve put their number on the Do Not Call List and don’t want to be called. There’s over a million phone numbers on the Idaho Do Not Call List. The argument is, ‘well, we should allow people to offend Idahoans as much as others might do it already.”
To see where the bill comes from no one need look any further than the bill’s contact information, Jim Clark (former lawmaker now lobbyist) for Frontier Communications and Bill Roden for CenturyLink.
Members of the House State Affairs Committee show a total of $13,650 in donations from companies, organizations, and people related to the telecommunications and cable industries for their campaigns in 2012.
For instance, Jim Clark donated $150 to the campaign of Representative Vito Barbieri of Dalton Gardens on April 19th. A little closer to home, Pocatello Representative Elaine Smith accepted $150 from a man by the name of William C. Roden.
But the money is even less disguised when you look at donations by Political Action Committees and other sources.
CenturyLink PAC donated $6,250 to the campaigns of those on the State Affairs Committee. Idaho Telecom Alliance chipped in $800, the Idaho Cable Telecommunications Association handed out $2,800, AT&T and Verizon Wireless doled out $2,000 and $1,500 respectively.
“I may take money in my campaign, but I look at each issue on an (individual) basis, I don’t look at who has given me money or who hasn’t,” said Rep. Smith. “I’ve never done that. I look at the issue, and some people that have given me money in the past for a campaign I’ve voted against, simply because I look at the issue and how it will affect my constituents. I don’t look at who has given.”
“How the contributions were received has nothing to do with this,” said Rep. Thomas F. Loertscher, “it’s a matter of public policy and the question is, should a company who furnishes phone service to whomever, do they have the ability to call their own customers?”
Of that money and looking at our east Idaho representatives, Ken Andrus took at total of $550, Tom Loertscher received $500, and Elaine Smith added $1,400 to the campaign coffers.
“We’re lay legislators here, we have to make decisions about what makes good public policy,” said Rep. Loertscher. “The question of fairness comes out, why are phone companies selected out of that group who can call their own customers?”
The only ones without their hands in the proverbial telecom cookie jar are Rep. Shannon McMillian, Rep. James Holtzclaw, Rep. Kelley Packer, Rep. John Gannon, and Rep. Jason Monks.
KPVI News 6 spoke with Kelley Packer and she says she feels it is unfair to these companies to single them out from contacting their customers. The bill would allow customers to tell the companies to not call them anymore. Companies would face a fine of $500 if they violated customer wishes and Packer says that provision give consumers enough say in the matter.
“We get a lot of calls from Idahoans upset about telemarketing calls that have come their way,” said DeLange, “we never had one person call and say, ‘I’d like to have some more telemarketing calls,’ not one.”