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Someone get the telephone!

You’ve just pulled the casserole out of the oven. But as you and the family sit down to dinner, the phone rings

You answer. “Congratulations,” the voice on the other side of the line says. “You’ve just won a free trip to Hawaii. All you have to do is come down for a few hours and check out the brand new time shares we’ve built downtown!”

No thanks.

You sit back at the table. The phone jingles, once again. “We have a great new mortgage deal that’s just right for you,” the anonymous voice intones.

Sorry. Click.

You decide to take the phone off the hook as you eat.

For millions of Americans, these types of disruptions were once commonplace — for millions, they still are. But five years ago, Congress passed legislation that prevented telemarketers from phoning those who put their names on a national “Do Not Call” list.

Companies that ignore the law face fines of up to $11,000 for each violation.

In the first week after the measure went into effect, 18 million people signed up. Today, the registry includes more than 149 million numbers — private land lines and cell phones, both.

But that figure may soon fall sharply.

Under the law, numbers drop off the Do Not Call list after five years. That means those who registered at the start of the program in June 2003 have less than nine months to re-register or they’ll again be subjected to the annoying sales pitches.

To re-register, phone users can either call 1-888=382-1222 or go to www.donotcall.gov.

“It is incredibly quick and easy to do,” Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection, told The Associated Press. “It was so easy for people to sign up in the first instance. It will be just as easy for them to re-up.”

OK. But why should the default setting be that numbers automatically fall off the list, rather than that they’re taken off only when the user requests it?

“When someone takes the time and effort to say ‘I don’t want these kinds of calls coming into my house,’ they shouldn’t have to keep a calendar to find out when they have to re-up to keep this nuisance from happening,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat.

The FTC says the five-year expiration date was intended to account for the fact that people change their minds or change their phone numbers. But Rep. Doyle correctly points out the list is purged each month of numbers that have been disconnected or reassigned.

There are constitutional questions about the Do Not Call list. It exempts political and charitable solicitations, for instance, meaning it targets a specific type of commercial speech. But the courts have so far upheld the law — and it is no doubt highly popular.

Given this reality, Congress should embrace legislation that Rep. Doyle introduced last week making registrations on the Do Not Call list permanent. An individual must take the initiative to get on the list in the first place. He shouldn’t be forced to repeat the process every few years.

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