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Contact Centre Industry Fears Register Will be a White Elephant

Contact Centre Industry Fears Register Will be a White Elephant

While the ATA has worked closely with the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) in the development of the legislation, members fear it could be used as a tool to fill government coffers and damage industry growth

The Australian Teleservices Association (ATA) has called on the federal government to outline a clear enforcement strategy for the Do Not Call Register (DNCR).

The ATA, which represents the local call centre industry, has also requested details of enforcement funding over the next five years amid growing concern by members over the cost of participation. Organizations who do not comply with the Do Not Call Register legislation face fines of up to a million dollars.

While the ATA has worked closely with the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) in the development of the legislation, members fear it could be used as a tool to fill government coffers and damage industry growth.

The legislation is a key part of the ATA Australian Contact Centre Standards program to be launched later in 2007.

The ACMA is responsible for overseeing the DNCR, determining the fees telemarketers will be charged for accessing the register and for investigating breaches of the legislation.

ACMA is also responsible for developing a national standard for minimum levels of conduct by telemarketers and research callers. The DNCR enables individuals with Australian fixed line and mobile numbers to list their fixed and mobile telephone numbers on the register and opt out of receiving a wide range of telemarketing calls.

Under the legislated scheme, it will generally be unlawful to make telemarketing calls to numbers placed on the register from the end of this month.

Industry will contribute to the costs of operating and maintaining the register by paying fees for access. ATA executive director, Michael Meredith, said the initiative is at risk of being viewed as a dead hand on the growth of the industry and is unlikely to deliver real consumer protection.

"Concerns are growing costs levied for DNCR compliance will fill government coffers while damaging a growth industry and failing to deliver any measurable benefit to consumers," he said.

"ATA members have voiced concern the ability for Australia to compete overseas will be reduced and the cost of compliance will mean Australian businesses reduce their use of telemarketing as a leads generation channel. Members want assurances the DNCR can produce the outcomes aimed for in the interest of consumers, but there is no clear enforcement strategy.

"The proposed costs make it hard for industry to accept another layer of bureaucracy and additional costs for compliance when the positive outcomes are dubious and negative outcomes are likely," he said.

"If clear, definable and measurable enforcement strategies are absent from the mix, all we are left with is a dead hand that threatens to stifle growth and cost jobs in the industry.

"It is not clear at this stage how effective enforcement will be funded and the concern is the DNCR will end up being a massive white elephant that is costly and unwieldy to correctly administer."

Concern about the DNCR enforcement strategy has been driven in part by reports from North America, where the introduction of similar legislation resulted in massive job losses but few benchmark cases being upheld against unscrupulous operators.

If the same scenario eventuates in Australia, Meredith believes the government is at risk of emboldening the "cowboy" element, while penalizing compliant members with the cost burden of running the program.

"In North America, only 30 cases of DNCR non-compliance have ever been enforced through the courts by the regulator and this is in stark contrast to the impact the legislation had on the industry, which is estimated to have lost nearly a million jobs," Meredith said.

An ACMA spokesperson said annual subscription fees range from $71 (to wash up to 20,000 numbers) to $80,000 (to wash up to 100 million numbers).

"There is also a subscription type that allows telemarketers to check up to 500 numbers per year at no cost," the spokesperson added.

In 2006, the government provided funding of $33.1 million over four years to establish the DNCR. ACMA has now proposed that due to lower than expected costs for the establishment of the register, the maximum identified costs to be recovered from industry are $11.4 million over four years.

"If a regulatory breach occurs, ACMA will take regulatory action commensurate with the seriousness of the breach. However, the general approach to compliance will be to negotiate and resolve the matter, without resorting to formal procedures," a spokesperson said.

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