NEW YORK - Not long ago, Americans' lunches and dinners - and sometimes breakfasts - were interrupted by phone calls from sales people.
Such nuisance calls were sharply reduced after the 2003 creation of the federal do-not-call list, which prohibits telemarketers from phoning those who have registered.
Despite the popularity of the registry, which has grown to more than 150 million numbers, consumer advocates had expressed worries that home phones could begin ringing again with sales calls this year because of a rule requiring consumers to re-register after five years.
Congress is working to fix that: Legislation passed by the House and Senate aims to make permanent the registrations on the do-not-call list maintained by the Federal Trade Commission.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota who sponsored the legislation, said he expects the nearly identical bills to be reconciled and forwarded to President Bush for signature by the end of this month.
The trade commission said the rule requiring re-registration every five years was adopted to try to keep the list as fresh as possible.
But the commission found that changes including increased use of cell phones and increased popularity of telephone number portability had made that unnecessary.
Also, a "scrubbing program" developed in cooperation with local phone exchanges automatically eliminates disconnected or reassigned numbers, it said.
Families can register home phones or cell phones on the Internet at www.donotcall.gov or by calling the toll free number 1-888-382-1222.
Telemarketers must stop calling no later than 31 days after the registration takes place.