For long-suffering Canadians who, through the years, have been pestered at awkward hours by telemarketers, today – September 30 – is a red letter day.
For the first time, Canadians have some remedy against those pesky agents who have the uncanny knack of calling you just as you’re starting dinner.
It’s been a long time coming, but D-Day is finally here. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has begun taking registrations from Canadians who no longer want to be disturbed by sales pitches over the phone.
Registration is free. Canadians can sign up online at www.LNNTE-DNCL.gc.ca or by calling the toll-free numbers 1-866-580-DNCL (1-866-580-3625) or 1-888-DNCL-TTY (1-888-362-5889). You can register your home phone, cell phone or fax number(s) on the National DNCL.
If telemarketers bother you, try dealing with them like Jerry Seinfeld.
Once someone has signed up, most telemarketers can no longer call them starting 31 days after registration. However, consumers must renew their registration every three years if they want your number(s) to stay on the National DNCL.
Bell Canada is operating the service on a five-year contract with the CRTC.
See our our slideshow to learn the essential facts about the DNCL.
The name of the list – “Do Not Call” – could lead many Canadians to believe they’ll never receive a telemarketing call again once they sign up.
But that’s likely not going to be the case.
Many groups are still allowed to call consumers – such as registered charities seeking donations, political parties and their candidates and newspapers looking for subscriptions, companies that have done business with a consumer in the past 18 months are all exempted from the list.
Between the loopholes and a lack of education among smaller call centres, many experts believe Canadians will have to rely on supplementary private services to truly be free of telemarketers.
“There are so many exemptions that it’s a ‘do-not-hesitate-to-call’ list rather than a ‘Do Not Call’ list,” says Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. “I don’t think it is what the original legislation intended.”
It was nearly four years ago that draft legislation to have such a list was introduced to Parliament, he adds. The first iterations didn’t have any exemptions, he said. But that was changed after lobbyists got into the act.
Geist said under the current legislation it appears that “the majority of telemarketing calls made can still be made.”
However, a consumer can request and exempt organization not to call them anymore – and the organization is required to comply.
All organizations are required to keep their own internal Do Not Call numbers and add consumers to that list if a specific request is made.
“It was generally felt that a blanket approach might hamper efforts to raise money for a good cause,” explains Denis Carmel, a CRTC spokesperson. “Also, to do away with some confusion – if you have a business relationship, you can call your customers.”
The list, he said, strikes a balance between consumers wish to not receive telemarketing calls and an organization’s ability to operate. But whether that balance is tilted to one side of the scale or not depends on who you ask.
“This is just so full of holes that it frankly hasn’t fulfilled its promise,” says David Fewer, staff counsel with the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC). “Just about everyone who got an exemption [is] an organization that you’d want to have protection against.”
In the absence of tough legislation to protect Canadian consumers from burdensome phone calls, privately-held solutions will have to do, Fewer says. Geist, a collegue of Fewer’s at the University of Ottawa has started a Web site to help Canadians prevent even more telemarketing calls than would be accomplished by registering with the CRTC’s Do Not Call list.
iOptOut.ca allows consumers to register and select from a list companies they don’t want calling them. The Web site then e-mails the companies and informs them of your wish.
It allows you – from a single place – to notify a large number of organizations that you don’t want to be called, Geist says.
Despite some initial opposition to Geist’s site from marketing interest groups, the CRTC says the requests are binding and must be respected. Launching the Web site last Spring, Geist argued Canada’s privacy laws trump the exemptions of the Do Not Call list.
“Exempt marketers have to comply [with iOptOut.ca] and remove the numbers from their lists,” Carmel confirms.
Currently, more than five million Canadian phone numbers have been registered with iOptOut.ca in anticipation of the Do Not Call list.
Groups against third-party Web sites allowing Canadians to opt-out from receiving phone calls include the Canadian Bankers Association and the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA).
But the CMA supports the Do Not Call List and has done so since the legislation was introduced in 2005. The interest group was concerned early on that businesses might not being able to communicate with their customers, but was appeased by an exemption.
“We feel it’s important for businesses to be able to talk with their customers,” says Ed Cartwright, senior director of communications for CMA. He said his organization felt it was important for companies being able to preserve an existing business relationship.
The CMA had its own Do Not Call service that members followed and is phasing that list out now that the CRTC has created a mandatory list.
Around 800 companies abided by the CMA’s list of more than 600,000 phone numbers. But there are thousands of companies that conduct telemarketing, Cartwright says.
He said CMA member companies recognize it’s in their best interest to respect the wishes of customers who don’t want to be called.
“It’s the recognition that consumers are in control of what they receive and what they want to receive. If they’re saying they don’t want to be contacted by telephone, then [we need to] respect that request.”
And that’s precisely what consumers are saying, according to a survey from Primus Telecommunications Canada. About nine out of every 10 Canadians describe telemarketing calls as “annoying” or “extremely annoying.” Those sort of feelings inspired the telecom company to launch its own service stopping telemarketers.
“We’re able to put in the list the large telemarketing firms to begin with,” says Primus president, Ted Chislett. “The bulk of our local customers opt for this service.”
Dubbed Telemarketing Guard, the service is free for Primus customers who use the company for their local phone service. After receiving a call from a telemarketer, a customer simply presses *44 to get options whether to block the telemarketer or allow calls from them.
As more negative votes pile up against a company, they are added to the generally blocked list.
The exemptions of the Do Not Call list may surprise some Canadians, Chislett says.
“I think there will be some disappointment. If people think the Do Not Call list is going to stop telemarketers from calling them, it will unfortunately not meet with their expectations.”
Telemarketing is a relatively new method of marketing employed by companies starting in the 1990s, according to Lawrence Surtees, senior analyst with Toronto-based consulting firm IDC Canada.
Around that time call centres mushroomed and consumers started being bombarded with calls.
“Basically, I think consumers on both sides of the border complained about it until something was done,” Surtees says.
In the U.S., AT&T has operated a list blocking telemarketers since 2003. In the first year since that list was launched, more than 62 million Americans signed up to the service and that number has since grown to be over 96 million. The system relies on tax funding to operate.
It’s hard to anticipate how many Canadians will register with the service in its early days, according to Carmel. “We’ve been so immersed in it that we think everyone knows, but that’s a misconception.”
Word of mouth and a media relations campaign will help to get the message out, he says.
Aside from a URL that doesn’t “roll off the tongue,” registrations should be fairly swift, believes Bill Elliot, director at Mount Albert, Ont.-based Fox Group Consulting, a telecommunications analyst firm. Such firms will play a roll in educating companies about the need to go along with the list.
“Our role is to advise the client,” he says. “It’s like teaching someone to drive, you can advise them of the rules by they can still get a speeding ticket.”
He said it’s not safe to assume all businesses engaged in telemarketing will be aware of the rules right away.
Unlike the U.S. list that is taxpayer-backed, Canada’s system is funded by the telemarketing firms that will use the service provided by Bell. Fees are subscription based and sold by the area code for larger companies, or by the phone number for companies that want to target less than 100 phone numbers.
Prices range from an annual fee of $11,280 for all area codes to $615 per each area code subscribed to, or just $0.50 per phone number. After a year’s operations, the fees could be reviewed and changed, Carmel says.
“After the first year, we’ll have a much better idea of the costs associated with running the list,” he says. Subscribers will be able to download the list as often as they like, in either Comma-seperated values (CSV) or Extensible Markup Language (XML) format.
Penalties can be imposed on telemarketers against whom complaints are received. The CRTC has authority to fine an individual up to $1,500 or a company as much as $15,000 for each violation. But for the list’s early days, education will be the focus.
“Our approach will be to make sure that people understand the rules and make every effort to be in compliance,” Carmel says.
But if an organization piles up enough complaints and hasn’t made any changes that approach will change quickly, he adds.
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