Call centre offshoring comes under bipartisan attack in Congress

Four U.S. lawmakers -- three Democrats and one Republican -- have teamed up to attack call center outsourcing with a bill that would penalize any company that moves a call center overseas.

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Four US lawmakers (three Democrats and one Republican) have teamed up to attack call centre outsourcing by introducing a bill that would penalise any company that moves a call centre overseas.

The bill would make any company that moves a call centre offshore ineligible for any federal grants or loans. It would require the US Labour Department to maintain a list of employers who relocate a call centre overseas and force companies to provide at least 120 days' notice before doing so.

It would also require a call centre worker to disclose his or hers location at the beginning of the call, if the caller request it.

The US Call Centre and Consumer Protection Act (HR 3596), was introduced by US Representative Timothy Bishop  and announced at news conference that included representatives of the Communication Workers of America. The measure's co-sponsors include David McKinley, Gene Green, and Michael Michaud.

"Outsourcing, in my view, is one of the scourges of our economy, and one of the reasons we are struggling so to knock down the unemployment rate," said Bishop. He said there are 4.7 million call center employees today, while in 2006 there were 5.3 million.

Broadband helps local call centres

In August, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that broadband deployments are boosting call centre industry employment. He claimed that an average of 4,000 call centre jobs are being created each month.

Alpine Access, a Denver-based call centre provider with a work-from-home business model, has 5,000 agents working in 41 states and said it has added 1,000 since August. It also has agents in Canada, who serve that market.

Christopher Carrington, president and CEO of Alpine, said that 70 percent of his company's growth over the past three years is the result of companies moving call center work back to the US. "There is definitely a trend of jobs returning [from] offshore back to onshore," said Carrington. "In reality, without legislation the momentum of the market is already leaning that way."

Carrington said the move of call center jobs back to the US is largely being driven by consumers.

"The American consumer has become increasingly frustrated with their confidential information being handled outside the United States, and with the difficulty of some phone calls that are handled internationally," said Carrington, who believes consumers are taking their business to companies that are able to serve them domestically. "You can legislate things, but at end of the day the consumer is the real decision maker as to how companies I think will create their own policies."

Could cloud centres in the cloud help?

Carrington expects his company to be near £70.4 million ($110 million) in revenue this year and anticipates 50 percent growth next year.

Bills to discourage call centre outsourcing have been tried before with little success. For instance, last year US Senator Chuck Schumer, pitched the idea of charging a 25-cent excise tax on any customer call that originates domestically but is transferred to an agent in a foreign location.

Frederik Cote, the president of Kunnect, a company that uses Amazon Web services to provide a cloud-based hosted call centre, supports Bishop's legislation. Cote said that about 90 percent of his clients are in the US.

"A lot of people wrote off the call centre industry many years ago," said Cote, adding, "I'm happy to see the call centre business is a thriving business, it is still truly an American business.

"I'm happy to see that we're contemplating laws to protect that," said Cote.