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January 24, 2008 at 1:14 PM

Cellphone directory bill passes out of house committee

Third-party cellphone directories that don’t have permission to list a subscriber’s phone number are one step closer to being illegal thanks to a bill being proposed by Washington’s House of Representatives.

Last week, the House’s Committee on Technology, Energy and Communications, heard testimony on Bill 2479, proposed by Rep. Dawn Morrell, D-Puyallup.

Morrell is attempting to update a bill passed earlier that made it illegal for cellphone companies to create a wireless phone directory without permission from individuals. In new language she is now proposing, it would preclude most any company — not just cellular operators — from creating a directory without permission.

Morrell proposed the bill after reading our story about how Bellevue-based Intelius was claiming to have millions of U.S. cellphone numbers for sale on its Web site. Since then, Intelius has filed for a $144 million initial public offering.

In the hearing, which you can watch here, the committee heard from a number of companies, including Intelius, AT&T, Yahoo! and others.

Most were concerned by the breadth of the document and the $50,000 fine that a mistake could cost them. In particular, AT&T and Yahoo! wondered what constituted a directory. Another concern was about phone numbers that were ported. Would the companies be responsible if a phone number were switched over from being a landline to a cellphone and remained listed in a White Pages directory?

Ed Petersen, Intelius co-founder and senior vice president of sales and marketing, testified that the company is not against regulation, in general, but it opposes this bill specifically:

“The industry is bigger than just Intelius; it’s not just a bill to prohibit Intelius’ services, but it will have a sweeping impact on a lot of companies….What we would recommend is to be part of the solution. Don’t rush through the bill, let us be apart of the solution going forward, and allow for some dialogue.”

Still, House members questioned the intent of Intelius’s services, which go beyond cellphone numbers and includes other information, including a person’s address and home number.

“It’s creeping us out actually; You have addresses that go back 17 years on me,” one said. “There’s a bit of stalker in this.”

Petersen said the services are used by companies who want to check out prospective job candidates, or by parents worried about a babysitter or contractor.

Another representative asked if Steve Largent ever got his money back after he conducted a search for his cellphone number and received incorrect information. Largent, president of CTIA — The Wireless Association, was quoted in our story as saying that although his search returned incorrect information, he did not receive a refund.

Petersen responded: “I was hoping that wouldn’t come up; We are a startup, and when we rolled it out, our customer service could have performed better.”

The committee changed some minor language in the bill, but voted it through 8-4.

On Tuesday, it was referred to the appropriations committee. If it passes, it may be put up for a vote before the full House.

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