Canadian Telemarketers Await No-Call Decision, Tougher Rules on Hold

Telemarketers in Canada await a government decision on a national no-call list after the industry narrowly avoided the implementation of complex rules that would have put stiff restrictions on outbound calling.

The new rules are on standby while the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission studies the feasibility of a national no-call list in Canada. The Canadian Marketing Association joined industry members in opposing the rules, but the CMA supports a no-call list for Canada on the grounds that it would provide a single, simple standard for all telemarketers.

The CRTC's new rules officially took effect May 21 but were never enforced. The CRTC didn't realize that its rules affected not just professional telemarketers but all businesses, most of which use the telephone in some fashion, said John Gustavson, president/CEO of the CMA.

“We were concerned, to put it mildly, that they were going to have a devastating effect,” Gustavson said of the rules. “The clear and simple solution of the do-not-call list was staring everyone in the face.”

Some of the rules included:

· Telemarketing agencies would have had to give consumers who make company-specific no-call requests the chance to opt out of all calls made by that agency, not just the client.

· Telemarketers would have had to identify themselves, their client and provide a toll-free number to the first person who answers the phone. The toll-free number would need to be answered by a live operator during business hours.

· A 5 percent maximum abandonment rate, measured monthly.

Another requirement, which would have taken effect Oct. 1 but was never implemented, would have forced telemarketers to give consumers who make company-specific no-call requests a unique registration number that they could use to confirm their request.

The rules did not offer exemptions for business-to-business calls and calls to existing customers, Gustavson said. Some Canadian companies thought that the failure to grant these exemptions violated the nation's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which, like the U.S. Bill of Rights, guarantees rights including freedom of expression.

The new rules created troubling possibilities, Gustavson said. The disclosure requirements meant telemarketers would have to identify themselves before they knew to whom they were speaking, resulting in confusing disclosures provided to small children or private details regarding the nature of the call given to the wrong people.

Also, by letting consumers opt out of all calls by an agency, the CRTC was setting up consumers to unwittingly cut themselves off from other clients of an agency, some of which might be needed service providers such as banks, Gustavson said. And the obligation to provide a unique registration number on all company-specific no-call requests was a burdensome data requirement.

In the CRTC's Sept. 28 decision to put the new rules on hold, the agency said the harm the rules would cause businesses outweighed any benefits for consumers. The agency also indicated that it was seriously considering a no-call list for Canada and that consumers would be confused if it changed telemarketing rules twice in a short time.

The CRTC has not decided whether to do away with the rule changes permanently. The CMA is counting on Canadian lawmakers to announce their intent to create a no-call list in the meantime, though the earliest that could happen is next year, Gustavson said.

One obstacle causing government concern is cost, he said. Canada's population is 33 million, about half the 60 million-plus phone numbers registered for the U.S. no-call list, and it has fewer resources to create the infrastructure needed for a national no-call registry than the United States.

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