By Brian Jackson
The federal government continued limping along in its support of the Do Not Call List with the budget. The stop-gap funding was tagged on as an afterthought to support what was intended to stop unwanted phone calls harassing Canadians at the dinner table.
Since it launched in 2008, the Do Not Call List has been promising to regulate unsolicited business phone calls made to consumers. What it has actually been doing is raising the ire of a business community fed up with its bureaucracy, and stoking the frustration of consumers who find the list ineffective.
It’s hard to find any staunch supporters of the Do Not Call List. Yet it limps on.
Meanwhile, the feds are ready to launch another initiative to rescue consumers from pesky business communications. The Spam Reporting Centre has been given its funding, assigned final regulations to work by, and should start its enforcement activities this year. Its mandate will be to identify trends and aid in the prosecution of those sending out unsolicited electronic messages – e-mail, text messages, instant messages, and so on. It has been nicknamed The Freezer.
Synergy. To use a buzz word, the operations and functions of The Freezer and the Do Not Call List have obvious similarities. Both are mandated by the federal government with an eye to further regulate communications between business and consumers. Both offer a place for consumers to report businesses who break those rules. Both are to enforce against breaking the regulations using fines.
Why not put the Do Not Call List in The Freezer? Merging the two centres could create a one-stop-shop for Canadians to manage their communications preferences. They could report the unsolicited communications they receive, and inform consenting companies ahead of time that they don’t want to be contacted.
Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law, made an attempt to fix the problem in 2008. His idea was to launch a Web service called iOptOut that would allow Canadians to pre-emptively opt out of communications (phone calls and e-mails) simply by selecting them from a list and clicking a button. Great idea, but the site isn’t currently running – a placeholder promising a relaunch in January 2012 can be found at iOptOut.ca.
Managing the communications preferences of millions of volunteers shouldn’t be left up to volunteer work. The government needs to step in and get its act together on this.
With the Conservative government releasing a belt-tightening budget, much of it at the expense of the public service, every opportunity to create efficiencies should be taken. Merging these nuisance-prevention services under one roof would be a sound budget-saving move.
The government has set aside $700,000 annually for operation of The Freezer. Funding for the Do Not Call List totaled $3 million between 2010-2012. It has exacted about $2.1 million in penalties, so is operating at a net loss.
Much of that funding goes to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which is responsible for overseeing the Do Not Call List (Bell Canada operates the list) and is one of three federal outfits responsible for enforcing the new anti-spam law. Why shouldn’t the CRTC simply hire a single operator to handle both these responsibilities? Better resources should also be put into enforcement so that fines cover the cost of operations, not taxpayer dollars.
A merger of the Do Not Call List and the Spam Reporting Centre isn’t likely to happen this year or next. The government closed its bid period for the Spam Reporting Centre Jan. 3, and the requirements didn’t include a plan to block telemarketing calls. The Do Not Call List just received another year’s worth of funding in the federal budget unveiled at the end of March.
Until then, you can expect more telemarketers to interrupt your dinner regularly. And keep that e-mail spam blocker up to date.