The CRTC continues to drag its feet on setting rules and regulations that would govern the telemarketing industry even as the public clamours for action on the issue, says the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA). More than two years after the commission began studying the contentious issue, it can’t provide any concrete information as to when a ruling might be issued. "We expect to issue something before the end of the year," Denis Carmel, director general of communications for the CRTC, writes in an email to Network Letter. "Sorry, I cannot narrow it down more." The commission kicked off the process in March 2001 when it issued Public Notice 2001-34, seeking public input on telemarketing rules. It heard from dozens of interested parties, including telcos, consumers groups and industry associations. The head of the CMA wonders why the CRTC process continues to drag on. "It’s been 18 months," CMA president/CEO John Gustavson tells NL. "They asked us questions, they asked us to make a submission, they asked us if we would run the system if they established it. And we’ve heard nothing else." Telemarketing has become one of the bugbears of modern communications. The CRTC is currently accepting comments on the establishment of a consumer bill of rights (NL, July 2/03). Although the proceeding is dealing strictly with rights and responsibilities that currently exist, many of those who have sent in remarks to date mention phone soliciting. "I believe it is my right NOT to be hassled by telemarketers. I’m sure the CRTC has the ability to stop telemarketing companies from hassling consumers of phone and internet services," Johnny McClurg wrote the regulator. "I understand that the U.S. will soon have a ‘system’ that eliminates this problem. I hope Canada will follow suit." Gustavson says the CMA is wholeheartedly behind a Do Not Call list, similar to the one recently introduced by the Federal Trade Commission in the United States (NL, June 16/03). Under the American rules, any firm calling people on the list can be subject to a fine of US$11,000 per call. The CMA considers it good business to use such a roster. "Marketers generally don’t want to annoy a customer or a potential customer using a medium that they don’t want used," Gustavson states, noting that television, direct mail and newspapers exist as alternatives for advertising. "So why annoy people who don’t want to hear from you by the telephone when you can reach them in other ways?" Gustavson sees some obstacles before such a system is implemented here. One is a jurisdictional question. The CMA executive is not certain if the CRTC has the authority to bring in a Do Not Call list or whether it would require enabling legislation from Parliament. "The second big question for them is who ought to pay for it. We told them that if we did it we wanted to be able to charge a five-dollar registration fee for a three-year registration," he explains to NL. "We didn’t think that was enough to impede people from actually doing it but, in a much smaller marketplace that we have here, it would keep the price of renting or subscribing for telemarketers much more reasonable." While action may be lagging at the federal level, provincial politicians are quick to jump on the anti-telemarketing bandwagon. Howard Hampton, the leader of the New Democratic Party in Ontario, has suggested establishing a Do Not Call list for the province. His proposed Eating Supper in Peace Act would permit Ontarians to register their names and numbers on a list that would ban telephone calls and faxes from telemarketers. Violation of the law could result in a $15,000 fine. The ruling Progressive Conservatives have indicated they are amenable to such a law. Political parties, pollsters and charities would be exempt from the provisions of the proposed bill. Hampton hopes that other provinces will adopt similar legislation, allowing for a national system to be quilted together. The CMA already has voluntary rules in place for its more than 800 members. Under the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, businesses may only call from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends, and not at all on statutory holidays. Hours are determined by where the customer lives, not where the telemarketer is located. "While these hours are a requirement for CMA member organizations, we must re-emphasize that CMA does not represent the vast majority of businesses engaged in telemarketing, and therefore, cannot oblige all companies to abide by its calling hour restrictions," the group wrote two years ago. "To remedy this problem we recommend that the commission consider adopting the CMA’s universal calling hours to govern telemarketing in Canada." Gustavson points out that American telemarketers have several exemptions on the rules. The only exemption the CMA favours is that a company could continue to contact an existing client."It might be somebody you haven’t done business with for three years but that’s because they bought a car," he tells NL. "Under the buying cycle, that would be a reasonable interpretation of that. And that’s the only exemption we think there should be." The American list has been extraordinarily popular. More than 10 million people signed on to the registry in the first four days of the initiative. That has emboldened some legislators in Washington to broaden the scope of consumer protection. Several anti-spam bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. The Stop Pornography and Abusive Marketing Act (the SPAM Act), sponsored by New York Senator Charles Schumer, would create a national "do not email" database. That may be difficult to introduce north of the border. One of the major hurdles is that the CRTC opted not to regulate the Internet when it issued Public Notice 1999-197. But even if the commission did find some way to prohibit spam, it is uncertain who would implement the rules. Gustavson wonders if ISPs would be forced into a policing role. "It’s one thing to pass a law. It’s another to say how it’s going to be enforced, and that’s where we see the difficulty is," he says. "In principle, obviously if we’ve banned our members from sending it, we support that."