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OTTAWA, Tuesday, November 15, 2005
The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, to which was referred Bill C-37, to amend the Telecommunications Act, met this day at 9:00 a.m. to give consideration to the bill.
John Lawford, Counsel, Public Interest Advocacy Centre: The Public Interest Advocacy Centre is the first consumer group and I believe the only that has testified before either committee so far, and I wish to underline that.
Consumers do want this legislation. That I will make clear. The most recent survey from the Environics poll makes that clear as well. However, there are certain elements to this bill that we would like to deal with in your committee rather than in the public notice process before the CRTC. Our submissions are highlighting three but now four concerns that have come up in the deliberations so far.
I will add one right off the bat, and that is through all of the committee hearings we have heard this list will be run at no cost to consumers. Our concern is that there is nothing in the legislation to guarantee that. I believe the experience in the United States has been that there was some seed money given from Congress to start up their do-not-call list in the case that there were not enough funds from telemarketers to actually run the list. Our concern is that there may be a facility within the legislation to make charges to consumers or there is nothing in there that actually prohibits it and that is a new addition to our submissions.
The other three concerns we have in representing consumers are, first, the exemptions under the bill are wide and they do not make a proper balancing between consumer privacy interests and business need to contact existing customers.
I would like to deal with the issue which has not been dealt with, and you will hear about I believe with the next panel, and that is charitable solicitation telemarketing. Charities represent 44 per cent of calls. That is what the latest Environics poll has shown us. These calls at the moment are exempted almost completely except the charity has to keep a secondary list under this legislation. Our concern is that charitable organizations may not be able to keep their lists up in the fashion that is necessary and either will run the risk, through lack of resources or negligence, of continuing to call consumers who have expressed a concern about being called and would like to be placed on the secondary list. We propose an amendment to have the do-not-call administrators keep the secondary lists for the charities. Whether that is feasible is something I would like to explore with you in questions.
Second is the business exemption for existing business relationship. The existing business relationship is not exactly parallel to the United States’ existing business relationship in at least one aspect, and that is with inquiries and applications. In the United States my understanding is that if you make an inquiry or application that that is three months. You have three months to call after an inquiry or application. In our bill it is six months. I do not see the difference if we are modelling between the two countries if we are trying to keep them parallel why there is the difference.
We feel that the existing business relationship exemption in general is awfully long and that 18 months is not a reasonable amount of time to call customers after they have had a relationship with a business and that has ended. Eighteen months of tail calling is a long time and we think that most consumers would consider that to be incompatible with the creation of a do-not-call list.
Finally, we are concerned about the consent issue. You have heard about consent in cyclical businesses. Our concern is from a more privacy point of view and that is that often with the business card in the fish bowl example that has been given people do not know that that will lead to telemarketing, that that consent is not clear. If you are to address a consent override in this bill, perhaps you could consider putting in an amendment to clarify how long that consent is good for. We would like it to be very short, actually non-existent, but we realize that there are some practicalities with people who need to call in two years, for example.
Our last two concerns deal with issues that have been touched on only once and that is, first, who will run this database. Our concern is that the administrator of this database should be a truly independent administrator.
At the moment there has been some interest expressed by the Canadian Marketing Association in running this database. We do not think that is a proper administrator for the database. They will not look after the public interest because they will be in a conflict position with their own members who are also telemarketers or heavy users of telemarketing services. In that instance, we ask the committee to consider moving an amendment that will make the independence of the administrator from all telemarketing a requirement so that you cannot be in the business of marketing or representing telemarketers and be the administrator of the list.
Finally, one issue that was briefly touched on by the representative of the CRTC is voice casting or what is called leaving voice mail in people’s voice mail boxes without ringing the telephone. At the moment, the CRTC has allowed that to occur outside of the telemarketing rules. We are not pleased with that result. It would surprise people if the do-not-call list covered telephones ringing but not voice mail messages left in their voice mail boxes. We think a technical amendment to specify in the definition of “telecommunications” that these voice mail messages directly to voice mail boxes without ringing the phone would be covered by the do-not-call list.
Those are our submissions and I welcome any questions from the senators.
Transcript includes questions from Senate and PIAC Responses