By Patrick Barnard
, Group Managing Editor, TMCnet
New York Senator Charles Schumer is reportedly planning to introduce a bill that will impose an excise tax on US companies that use off-shore call centers. The goal of the bill is to stop if not reverse the off-shoring of US call center jobs.
The bill will also require US companies to tell their customers up-front which country the call is being transferred to, in the event it's an offshore call center.
According to an AP report
the bill already includes a proposed fee of 25 cents for each call transferred. Companies would have to report their total customer service calls received and the number relayed overseas on a quarterly basis.
The bill is controversial because it 'punishes' companies for outsourcing jobs as opposed to finding an 'incentive' for them to keep the jobs here - such as a tax break based on calls kept in the US.
Schumer, however, pointed out that the bill 'also provides a reason for companies that have already outsourced jobs to bring them back.'
A recent report on TMCnet shows that the US lost 250,000 call center jobs to India and the Philippines in 2001-2003.
Some states have already started implementing similar measures to keep their call centers in-state. In March, TMCnet reported
that the Connecticut state legislature was considering a similar bill - this one imposing new rules pertaining to how telecommunications companies staff their call centers.
As per the new rules, each time a state resident calls into a phone company's call center, the agent on the other end of the line must tell the caller what state and/or country they are located in. If the agent is working in a call center located outside of Connecticut, the caller can request that they be transferred to an in-state call center.
However, callers will only be transferred to in-state call centers 'when possible' and if a call center exists. Therefore the bill does not appear to have a lot of teeth, as it does little or nothing to force phone companies to keep call centers in-state.
However the proposed bill does include an indirect incentive to phone companies to keep their call centers in Connecticut: It requires the state Department of Information Technology, when buying products or services, to give preference to telecommunications companies that have a high percentage of service calls directed to in-state call centers.
The legislation also would require telecommunications companies to provide to the state each year the locations of centers receiving calls from customers in Connecticut. No word yet on whether there would be punitive measures for phone companies that fail to abide by the new rules.
The bill has already been approved by the state legislature's Energy and Technology Committee.
The major phone companies oppose the legislation, with one AT&T (News
) spokesperson criticizing it as an attempt to 'micromanage reasonable and efficient business decision-making.' AT&T officials point out that the call centers in Connecticut are more expensive to operate because call center agents in the state command higher-than-average wages (and labor is the single biggest operating expense for any call center). While some state representatives have asserted that this will improve the level of customer service for state residents, phone company officials point out that the same level of customer service can be achieved regardless of where a call center is located.
The state Department of Public Utility Control, which regulates utilities, had argued that the legislation is discriminatory because it does not pertain to service providers that offer local phone service over the Internet, such as Cablevision.