WASHINGTON -- Telephone customers would be better protected from having their long-distance companies switched without their permission under a bill sent to the House on Thursday.
The House Commerce Committee approved the bill on a voice vote without dissent. The Senate has passed a different version of the bill, but it is uncertain whether Congress will act this year on a final bill to combat "slamming."
Slamming, the unauthorized switching of a person's long-distance carrier, is among the biggest sources of telecommunications complaints to regulators and is already illegal.
The House bill would act to prevent the practice from happening in the first place.
The bill would have the Federal Communications Commission, after consulting with the Federal Trade Commission and the telephone industry, come up with a code that companies voluntarily would follow to combat slamming.
The code would have companies verify their customers' selected long-distance provider, notify customers when their long-distance company has been switched and bar companies from "negative option marketing." That entails putting customers in positions where they will automatically have their service switched unless they specifically tell the company they don't want it changed.
Companies that don't voluntarily follow the code would be subject to FCC anti-slamming regulations, which would include those key provisions of the code. MCI WorldCom and other phone companies said they like the voluntary approach.
"They can either police themselves through a consensus code of conduct, or if they choose not to, they can suffer the consequences of tough FCC regulation," said one of the bill's authors, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La.
This approach is different from an earlier version of Mr. Tauzin's bill, which would have imposed tough FCC anti-slamming regulations on the companies. That measure was approved by the telecommunications subcommittee in August.
Mr. Tauzin and John Dingell of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee, said their revised bill approved Thursday would be less regulatory.