Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Canada’s Do Not Call List – A Work In Progress

When the Canadian government launched a Do Not Call List last September, the response from Canadians was so great, the website to sign up crashed.

Telemarketers – those pesky people that call you at home, just as you are about to bite into that delicious dinner, watch your favourite show on television, or simply crawl into bed for some much needed shut-eye – are not allowed to call you if you have listed your phone number on the Do Not Call List (DNC).

That is, so long as the telemarketers are calling from here in Canada. Although the telephone network is global, the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the federal department which manages the DNC, can only extend its long arms of telecommunications law across Canada.

Thanks to call centres being outsourced by many large companies to third-world countries, telemarketers still may call you, even if you’ve registered your phone number on the DNC.

There are also provisions in the law, allowing companies which you have had any form of business relationship with for a year, to still try to sell you their products and services over the phone, even though you may be listed on the DNC.

And, in a classic gesture to keep the CRTC from biting the hand that feeds it, the DNC has a provision allowing politicians fundraising for their political parties to solicit funds from people, even those listed on the DNC.

Then the whole privacy issue comes up – just how well does the CRTC manage all the private personal information it collects to manage the DNC? There have been concerns raised over the use and disclosure of this information, as there have been recently with other provincial and federal government bodies.

So, almost a year since the DNC was introduced, and over 6.7 million registered telephone numbers later, how well has the DNC been working?

A survey released last month by the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association claims the DNC is about 80 percent effective in reducing unwanted sales calls.

Though some 13 percent said the number of unwanted telemarketers calling them had increased. Western parts of the country were hit harder, with one in four people surveyed saying they get more calls since registering on the DNC. That’s double what Ontario and Quebec residents surveyed said, about being registered on the DNC.

At the root of the problem is enforcement – the CRTC did a great job creating the backbone infrastructure to maintain and manage the DNC database. It is relatively painless and almost idiot-proof to register your phone number, by going to this website:

However, when it comes to following-up with companies that still try to pester people with their sales pitches, despite being listed on the DNC, the CRTC didn’t place enough people on the job. There have been complaints that it takes too long and involves too much effort for the often slap-on-the-wrist penalties for those companies breaking the law.

Still, some protection is always better than none – so it makes sense to register your number in the DNC registry.

And the CRTC is trying to make things better. Today, they extended the ban on calling registered numbers in the DNC from three to five-years. That means, if you register a phone number today, it remains active on the DNC for five-years.

Still, if the CRTC isn’t able to really enforce the DNC list, it doesn’t matter how long numbers remain active on the DNC. It is like posting speed limits on the highway, but not having any police patrolling that highway – people will speed, just as telemarketers will continue to call.

Maybe the next improvement the CRTC makes will not just improve the DNC, but Canada’s economy as well – by posting a job for enforcement officers for the DNC. Politicians are struggling to find ways to get people working during these sad economic times – looks like that would be a good place to start.

The poll was conducted by the Harris-Decima Group, in which 2,035 adults were contacted Jan. 29 to Feb. 15. The poll is considered accurate to within 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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