20 December 2013

Do Not Call consultation

The Department of Communications has released a consultation paper [PDF] regarding the Do Not Call regime under the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 (Cth).

The 25 page 'Optimal period of Registration on the Do Not Call Register' discussion paper indicates that
The Do Not Call Register (the Register) allows registrants to opt out of receiving certain unsolicited telemarketing calls and marketing faxes by listing their telephone or fax numbers on the Register. When the Register was first established in 2007, registrations were valid for three years from registration. Since then, the registration period has been extended on three occasions, and is now set at eight years.
This discussion paper is seeking community views on the optimal period of registration for numbers on the Register. Public comment is sought on four options:
Option 1) Reduce the period of registration to three years
Option 2) Retain the current eight year registration period
Option 3) Extend the registration period to indefinite
Option 4) Remove the need to register
The Department of Communications is seeking comment on which of these four options maximises the value of the Register to Australian consumers and ensures that their privacy is adequately protected, while minimising the compliance cost on businesses engaging in telemarketing and fax marketing activities as far as possible. In addition, for options one, two and three, the Department is also considering the introduction of a cleansing mechanism, to improve the accuracy of the Register. ...
The Do Not Call Register Act 2006 (the Act), requires the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to establish and maintain the Register. The Register became operational in May 2007, and since then 9 million numbers have been registered. The key objectives of the Register are to:
  • reduce the inconvenience and intrusiveness of unsolicited telemarketing calls and marketing faxes by enabling consumers to list their fixed line and mobile phone numbers on the Register 
  • provide a consistent and efficient operating environment for businesses engaging in telemarketing and fax marketing activities 
  • establish an effective complaints handling mechanism for consumers to report complaints about unsolicited telemarketing calls and marketing faxes.
The Register allows consumers to register their numbers, to opt-out of receiving certain telemarketing calls and marketing faxes. There are a number of ways that consumers can register, including via the internet (www.donotcall.gov.au), telephone (1300 792 958), fax and post. Registrations can take up to 30 days to become fully effective. Registrants can also remove their telephone or fax numbers from the Register through an online process. The Act prohibits the making of an unsolicited telemarketing call or the sending of an unsolicited marketing fax to a number on the Register, subject to certain exceptions.
Telemarketers and fax marketers can submit their calling lists to the Register operator, which then ‘washes’ the list against the Register to identify which numbers are registered. To access the washing service, telemarketers and fax marketers pay an annual subscription fee. The fees operate on a sliding scale, depending on the maximum number of Australian numbers to be washed in a 12 month period.
Since 1 July 2008, the full direct costs of operating the Register have been recovered from businesses engaging in telemarketing and fax marketing activities through these subscription fees. The ACMA undertakes regular cost-recovery reviews to determine the subscription fees, in line with the Australian Government’s Cost Recovery Guidelines. The fees currently range from subscription type A, that is free for 500 numbers, through to subscription type H, that is $90 000 for 100 000 000 numbers.
The Department notes that The registration period for numbers on the Register was originally set at three years. This meant that numbers registered in 2007, would have needed to be re-registered before 2010 so as not to fall off the Register.
Since the commencement of the Register in 2007, the registration period has been extended three times. The most recent extension occurred on 9 April 2013, and registrations are now valid for eight years from the date the number was first registered. Numbers registered soon after the Register commenced in 2007 will now begin to expire from 31 May 2015.
The limited period of registration was originally intended to address concerns that an indefinite (or very long) period of registration may introduce inaccuracies into the Register.
Account-holders do not generally request the removal of their number from the Register when they give up their number. When a number is given-up, it will eventually be reissued to a new account holder after being in quarantine for a period. As a result it is possible that there are inaccuracies on the Register. ...
There are also a number of other factors which act to prevent inaccuracy or reduce the need for intervention:
- Local Number portability allows consumers to keep their geographic number (i.e. 02 6271 XXXX) when they switch providers. For example, a person changing telephone providers can keep their number when they move to a new provider. In 2011-12, there were 627,16010 geographic numbers ported. There are 5 million landline numbers on the Register. Since the commencement of the Register, a total of 3.7 million geographic numbers have been ported. Access to Local Number Portability may mean that consumers are less likely to need to seek a new number when they swap providers, and this may therefore reduce the amount of numbers entering quarantine.
- Mobile Number Portability allows customers to retain their mobile telephone number when they change providers. For example, a person changing mobile telephone service providers can keep their number when they move to a new provider. In 2011-12, there were 2.6 million mobile numbers ported. There are currently 3.85 million mobile numbers on the Register. Since the commencement of the Register, a total of 8.9 million mobile numbers have been ported. Mobile Number Portability, like Local Number Portability, may mean that customers are less likely to need to seek a new number when they swap providers, and this may therefore reduce the quantity of numbers entering quarantine. However, it is worth noting that pre-paid number have a high turnover (that is, a customer may simply discard their number). Likewise, prepaid mobile services may also be passed on from person to person without anyone contacting the supplier. Hence, pre-paid mobile phone numbers on the Register have an increased likelihood of inaccuracy.
- Location portability allows individuals (and organisations) to retain their fixed line/landline number when they move. This is possible when an individual is moving house within the same general geographic area (for example within Canberra or Gosford). Some providers do not allow location portability, which may limit the ability of consumers to access this service when they move. The ACMA has relaxed these rules for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services – in certain circumstances, individuals can acquire a VoIP number that does not relate to the geographic area that they live in (for example, in certain circumstances a person living in Canberra can be issued a Melbourne number – e.g. 03 9963 XXXX). - Changing a place of residence does not normally require any change in the existing mobile numbers, so the accuracy of the mobile numbers on the register is not usually affected by moving. As of 15 July 2013, there were 3.85 million mobile phone numbers registered 
One rationale for the DNC regime is privacy as 'the right to be left alone'. The paper notes that
Consumers have consistently reported that telemarketing, and unsolicited marketing in general, can cause them inconvenience and annoyance. A recent 2013 study by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has found that:
56% of respondents felt annoyed from contact by unsolicited marketers.
39% of respondents concerned about how their details were obtained by the organisation contacting them.
Community attitudes also appear to be shifting. In 2013, 45% were annoyed by unsolicited marketing versus just 27% from a similar survey done by the OAIC in 2007. In the 2013 survey respondents were less likely to feel that unsolicited marketing was "a bit annoying, but mostly harmless" (11% in 2013 versus 23% in 2007). The 2013 survey also found that only 3% of respondents indicated that unsolicited marketing information either doesn’t bother them and only 2% indicated that they enjoy reading it.
It goes on to quote a researcher's comment that
the Australian Do Not Call Register compares poorly with other jurisdictions. In the US the renewal requirement was dropped in 2007 and registration is now permanent. Registration is also permanent in India, Spain and the UK. A major problem with the renewal requirement is that it adds regulatory burden, complexity and expense to a system that is supposed to be simple and inexpensive… (the renewal) process will be very ineffective and inefficient, as it is unlikely any registered consumers will suddenly wish to receive telemarketing calls. (In any case, a consumer can remove their number from the Register at any time if they have a change of heart about telemarketing)… There is no evidence that any of the Do Not Call Registers in jurisdictions without renewals have become ‘clogged’ with obsolete information.