Canadian Do Not Call List debut marred by site crash

Canada’s national Do Not Call List (DNCL) was much too popular for its own good.

The DNCL Web site that allows Canadians who don’t want to receive telemarketing calls to register for free crashed hours after it went live for the first time yesterday.

Massive online traffic is believed to have brought down the site.   
Shortly after opened, consumers reported the site – put up to list the phone numbers of people who do not want to receive telemarketing calls – had crashed.

At around 8:30 a.m. attempts to connect with the DNCL only resulted in an error message on our computer screen.

By 1 p.m. on Wednesday, I was able to access the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) site.

However, when attempting to register a phone number, the succeeding page had this message: We are experiencing a temporary technical problem. Please call one of the numbers below for registration, or try again later.

The toll free lines –1-866-580-DNCL (1-866-580-3625) or 1-888-DNCL-TTY (1-888-362-5889) – were busy throughout the day as well.

My queries about the crash were referred to the CRTC, but the Commission has not returned my calls so far. By 1:55 p.m. I was able to register my number online.

The site also provided this reminder: Do not expect calls to stop immediately. Telemarketers have up to 31 days to update their list and to make sure they do not call you. You may still receive calls within those 31 days.

Meanwhile many of our readers commented vociferously about their inability to register on the DNCL site:
“I think there is a pent up demand for this – the site is down right now – overload?!” reported Steve McWilliam, one of our readers.

“I can see that the DNCL site is not yet ‘available’. And, iOptOut is showing script errors all over the personal management pages. Nice Start!” vented Devil’s Advocate.

“No excuse you can give is good enough as to why the web site is not working to allow people to register. You’ve had plenty of time to meet a deadline of Sept 30/08. Get on the ball and do your jobs or hire people who can,” wrote K.C.

There were also some insinuations of a conspiracy of sorts.

“Looks like the [DNC] site is taken over by hard working telemarketing folks,” wrote Harshad Patel. “So far all of it is a joke, or the do not call webmaster has retired to a hopefully cloudy beach.”  

While the crash is an indication of the massive consumer demand for this service, the disruption certainly does not reflect well on the CRTC and Bell Canada (the company contracted by the CRTC to manage the list), according to industry experts.

The site probably came down because of unexpected traffic volumes, said Roberta Fox, principal of consultancy firm Fox Group Consulting based in Mount Albert, Ont.

One key challenge in planning these types of services, she said, is to estimate the volume of inbound requests and then pre-test the anticipated load.

“It is obvious that load testing and pre-release did not factor the higher-than-anticipated demand,” Fox noted.

It could not be ascertained how many callers and e-mail requests the site received yesterday.

When the U.S. launched a similar list in 2003, nearly 62 million people signed on. By its second year, that highly successful registry had more than 92 million people registered.  

Even before the Canadian DNCL’s debut an alternative DNC list was set up by Michael Geist, Internet Lawyer and University of Ottawa research chair.
IOptOut provides an option to the CRTC’s DNCL list that Geist says is eroded by the huge number of exemptions. iOptOut was up and running yesterday.

Many Canadians were disappointed to learn that businesses with which they have had prior relationships, political parties, survey companies, newspapers and registered charities were exempt from the DNCL.

Under the law, these exempted organizations are permitted to make unsolicited telephone calls to people who have signed up with the government DNCL. However these organizations must remove a person’s number from their call list if that individual specifically requests them to do so.

IOptOut sends do not call notifications to businesses on behalf of people who sign up with it. As of press time more than 5.5 million people had signed on to opt out from being contacted by DNCL-exempt organizations.

Geist and many telecom analysts said there is an urgent need for stronger enforcement measures to ensure the success of the national DNCL.
Early on, the DNCL exemptions have been viewed by analysts as a potential source of problem for the government’s initiatives to curb unsolicited calls.
“The exemptions actually allow a majority of current telemarketing calls to circumvent the DNC list,” says John Lawford, research analyst and counsel for the Public Interest and Advocacy Centre in Ottawa.

Previous studies, Lawford said, indicate that 44 per cent of unsolicited calls come from charities, about 20 per cent are made by political parties and candidates, and the remaining 11 per cent are split among pollsters, newspapers and businesses.

“The national DNCL got rid of at lest 25 per cent of the calls. I guess that’s better than nothing,” the lawyer said.

Despite this, many telemarketers will have to switch tactics as the idea of a DNCL gains ground, according to other analysts.
Tim Richardson, a professor of e-commerce and international business at the Seneca College and University of Toronto said many businesses will have to actively pursue permission-based marketing strategies.

He suggests that companies obtain a comprehensive list of their customers, find out how these individuals want to be contacted (e-mail, direct mail, telephone or a combination of methods) and then obtain the client’s permission to be contacted.

Roberta Fox of Fox Group said she has in fact noted an increase in the use of e-mail marketing and newsletters by many telemarketers.

“Telemarketing firms have been planning for this move for some time,” she said.

Telemarketers, she said, have been trying to encourage customers to provide their e-mail address. This tactic has resulted in an increased volume of e-mail marketing messages.

“This puts the onus on customers to put unwanted e-mail address into their ‘spam folders’ on a regular basis to avoid getting swamped.”  
While the DNCL site might be up and running again, another analyst warned that such a registry is not likely to put a stop all unwanted calls.

“Even if consumers register with the DNCL,” Levy said, “the phones will continue to ring,” said Carmi Levy, senior vice-president for strategic consulting at AR Communications Inc. in Toronto.

He said this is because many telemarketing firms are based offshore or in the U.S., where the Canadian DNCL does not apply.
In fact it is quite an interesting set up, Levy notes: “U.S. telemarketers can call us because our DNCL does not affect them and our telemarketers can call

Americans because their DNCL has not power over foreign firms.”

However, according to another industry insider, offshore companies calling Canadians are not off the hook.

The legislation is based on where the call is coming to (i.e. Canada) and not where it’s coming from, noted Kimberley Reynolds, product manager, Bell Canada.

Reynolds gave an exhaustive presentation on the DNCL earlier this year at the IT360 seminar in Toronto. Her presentation was titled Do Not Call – A New Reality for Canadian Business.

“The expectation,” said Reynolds, “is any business that does unsolicited telemarketing into Canada, would comply, that they would subscribe to the DNC list and register with the complaints delegate.”

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