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Public Interest News: March - June 2007

PUBLIC INTEREST NEWS
June 20, 2007

Consumer Groups appeal Ontario Energy Board’s Billion Dollar Giveaway

(PIAC 20/6/07)—The Vulnerable Energy Consumers Coalition, (VECC) together with the Consumers Council of Canada (CCC) and the Industrial Gas Users Association (IGUA) today appealed the decision of the Ontario Energy Board to allow Union Gas Limited to keep all revenues from natural gas storage that is sold to non-Union customers.

The storage was built with the rates paid by Union Gas customers and the outside revenue has always been shared so that Union Gas customers get 75% of the money credited against their rates.

Now, Union customers will get nothing and Enbridge Gas Distribution customers will pay for part of their gas storage obtained from Union Gas Limited at rates that are six times the actual cost. (All customers of Union Gas Limited and Enbridge Gas Distribution pay for natural gas storage in their rates).

Ontario’s three main customer groups are appealing to the Ontario cabinet to prevent the decision from being implemented. The cost to Ontario consumers, after a brief transition period, is expected to be greater than $100 million per year and one billion dollars over a ten-year period.

“The OEB decision will not create any new natural gas storage, and neither will it conserve or create energy,” said Michael Janigan, General Counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre who represented VECC in the Board’s proceeding.

“It is simply making Ontario consumers give a billion-dollar gift to Union Gas Limited’s American owners, Duke Energy. This is money obtained by having Canadian customers pay over the years for storage to be developed and then taking away the profits when the surplus storage becomes successful,” Janigan continued.

VECC and the other customer groups are requesting that the Ontario Cabinet set aside the Board Decision and return it to the OEB for a rehearing.

Bernier’s telcom record: UToS, No no-call, no TCA

(PIAC 20/6/07)—Industry Minister Maxime Bernier has taken care of the big players but has done little for consumers says Michael Janigan, executive director and general counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
“Bell and Telus are prospering, meanwhile consumers are looking at the 16 itemized unregulated terms of service on their local phone bill with justified concern,” Janigan says.

Meanwhile if consumers have problems or question they have no place to turn as the CRTC is already overwhelmed while the Minister’s Telecommunications Consumer Agency exists on paper only. Janigan also expressed concern over the Minister’s failure to get the telemarketing no-call list up and running.

Spectrum auction: Industry Canada must be prepared to act in the public interest

(PIAC 20/6/07)—“The spectrum auctioning process by reliance on the bid process alone has failed to achieve its important objectives” PIAC contends in its May 25 submission to Industry Canada.

In December 1997, PIAC published “The Inappropriateness of Spectrum Auctioning in a Canadian Context” which concluded “the auctioning process was not in the public interest in that it would likely mean less competition, higher consumer prices and reduced societal benefits in the form of job creation and research.”

As a result of the spectrum auction process Canada has an uncompetitive market dominated by Bell, Telus and Rogers and, according to a recent OECD report, are overpaying for their cell service.

PIAC believes Industry Canada must create the conditions for market optimization in a way that is effective and minimally intrusive, but provides a safety net to prevent a one-sided use of public resources in the form of spectrum.

Interested parties have until June 27 to make submissions. The auction is expected to take place early next year.

C-6 gutted: Air passenger safety turned over to Air Canada et. al.

(PIAC 19/6/07)—The airline lobby has won another battle yesterday with Minister of Transport Lawrence Cannon’s motion to delete “continuous monitoring” and “the highest level of safety” from the Aeronautics Act.

The Bill transfers primary responsibility for passenger safety from Transport Canada to the industry. The motion speaks to the extent to which Transport Canada will monitor the industry’s monitoring of itself.

“I think it is very troubling that the government has tabled a motion that has gutted the very critical amendments to Bill C-6, approved by the committee after four months of hearings,” said retired Alberta justice Virgil Moshansky in a Hamilton Spectator report.

“In order for Cannon to succeed in removing the safety amendments, at least one of the three opposition parties must reverse itself and support him,” the Spectator’s Fred Vallance-Jones reported on June 19.

C-11—No consumer protection from misleading airline ads

(PIAC 14/6/07)—The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) slammed the House of Commons passage of Bill C-11 today which contain Senate amendments that effectively stripped the original Bill (passed by the House of Commons in February of this year) of consumer protection provisions with respect to misleading airline advertising and railway noise. The Liberals joined Conservative members in approving the altered Bill. The Bloc and the NDP opposed the Senate amendments.

“This represents an absolute sellout of the interests of travel agents and airline customers across Canada,” said Michael Janigan, Executive Director and General Counsel of PIAC.

In the House of Commons Transportation Committee, on the motion of the Liberal members, TPI was successful in obtaining a provision that would have forced Transport Canada to prevent Airlines from advertising one low fare then charging a much higher one after all the charges and fees are added. Laws in Ontario and Quebec prevent travel agents from engaging in such a practice, while statutes in other provinces have similar language restricting such practice. The airlines, however, are regulated by the federal government and no such restriction applies.

In the Senate a furious lobby by Air Canada and Westjet to stick with the suspect advertising practices succeeded in winning the support of the Liberal Senators. An amendment preventing the advertising provisions from going into effect until “consultation” takes place was passed and sent back to the House. In the House, the Liberals led by Joe Volpe today deserted their own party’s legislative provisions and passed the amended Bill.

PIAC applauds CRTC connection charge decision

(PIAC 1/6/07)—The CRTC today blocked efforts by Canada’s big telephone companies to pass on the costs of connection or reconnection charges to all of its customers rather than having them paid by the customer who they are actually connecting.

“This change would have helped Bell, Telus and the rest , make all their local customers pay for their efforts to win back customers that have switched elsewhere,” said John Lawford, legal counsel with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) which opposed the change.

“PIAC produced polls showing that a large majority of customers opposed the change,” Lawford said.

PUBLIC INTEREST NEWS
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
May 25, 2007

No pricing rules for 60% of local phone market this summer

(PIAC 25/5/07)—The CRTC is currently processing applications by Bell, Telus, Sasktel, MTS and Bell Aliant to deregulate local telephone service in markets from Vancouver to Moncton.

“The major phone companies have taken advantage of the new rules and have applied for deregulation in most of the country’s largest markets, covering about 60% of the population. They are expected to receive exemption by the summer,” the National Post reported on May 1.

PIAC is contesting many of the applications which are based on Industry Minister Maxime Bernier’s April 4 Order-in-Council deregulating local telephone service.

“We think the CRTC has abandoned Canadian telephone customers,” said Michael Janigan, executive director and general counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre,” the Post’s Peter Nowak reported.

June 1: Fifty cent pay phones, no limit to hikes in optional services like call display

(PIAC 25/5/07)—The April 30 CRTC Price Caps decision opens the door to a 100% increase in pay phone rates and unlimited increases for features like call display.

“The CRTC will now permit phone companies to charge whatever they like for ‘optional services’ but don’t be misled, this means useful services most Canadians take for granted, such as call display and voice mail,” said Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre,” the Globe and Mail reported on May 1.

Rural telephone users will also see basic phone service rates rise. The Price Caps decision does not apply to deregulated local telephone markets where there will be no pricing rules.

The Globe’s Stephen Chase wrote: “Consumer advocates panned the CRTC moves, accusing the commission of abandoning Canadian phone consumers including the “most vulnerable” who depend on pay phones.”
Global TV’s Mike Edgell interviewed PIAC’s John Lawford: ‘It [the pay phone] has to be considered an essential service for folks that rely on it. And although there’s fewer pay phones, the ones that are there are now even more essential than they were before.”

Data breach notification: Corporations write the rules

(PIAC 25/5/07)—Jennifer Stoddart, Canada’s privacy commissioner will soon publish guidelines instructing banks, phone companies, retailers and other businesses when to tell consumers about security breaches, CanWest News reported on May 10.

“Under the guidelines, businesses that fall victim to hackers or lose sensitive personal information would continue to decide if and when to tell the affected consumers—a system that’s a far cry from the mandatory breach notification that consumer advocates had been hoping for, said John Lawford, research analyst at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre” CanWest’s Carly Weeks wrote.

“Mr. Lawford, along with other consumer and privacy groups, recently sent letters to Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart outlining their concerns and are urging her to rethink the guidelines. They say they’re worried about the fact large corporations, banks and industry associations, such as the Canadian Bankers Association, Retail Council of Canada, Bell Canada and Telus, wrote the guidelines …” Weeks reported.

CAJ: Code of Silence at Transport Canada Aviation Safety

(PIAC 25/5/07)—This year’s Canadian Association of Journalists nominations for the Code of Silence Award recognizing the most secretive governments in Canada includes Transport Canada’s Aviation Safety operation.

A CAJ news release said Transport Canada was awarded “for doggedly fighting for four years to keep basic aviation safety data out of the hands of journalists and the public. Following a formal request for the data by the Hamilton Spectator in 2001, the department dug in its heels, at one point claiming that information about commercial aircraft incidents constituted the personal information of the pilots flying the planes. Only a legal challenge before the Federal Court finally persuaded Transport Canada to release the data last year.”

The winner will be announced at the CAJ’s Annual Meeting May 24-27.

PIAC on Cabinet Order for Telecommunications Consumer Agency: Need for a Telecom Ombudsman is pressing

(PIAC 25/05/7) – With dramatic changes including price hikes expected this summer PIAC is pressing the CRTC to move quickly on establishing the Telecommunications Consumer Agency.
On May 4 PIAC wrote Konrad von Finckenstein, Chairman Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission regarding Cabinet Order P.C. 2007-0533 to the CRTC on telecommunications consumer complaints. “PIAC is interested in working with the Commission, Industry Canada, consumers, consumer groups and the telecommunications industry in creating the Telecommunications Consumer Agency (TCA) as soon as possible,” PIAC’s John Lawford wrote.

“PIAC has noted some confusion in the industry, in government and the consumer movement over the scope of the Order and the process for achieving its creation. We also underline that the terms of the Order appear to require the logging of consumer complaints towards informing the government and the eventual TCA of the volume and type of consumer telecommunications complaints; however, it is not clear that there is any infrastructure in place in the CRTC, industry or consumer groups to compile this required information,” the letter said.

Lawford wrote: “the CRTC’s recent 3 year plan places the proceeding towards defining the TCA in the third year of the plan. In light of the rapid pace of deregulation in local telecommunications, and the high volume of complaints that consumer groups and government consumer ministries and agencies, as well as the CRTC and the carriers presently take on all telecommunications services, such a delay seems to us to be risky and counterproductive.”

The role of the regulator: Not an uncritical cheerleader of deregulation

(PIAC 25/5/07)—Michael Janigan PIAC Executive Director in a May 2 speech to Canadian Association of Members of Public Utility Tribunals addressed the role of the regulator. Janigan’s speech is excerpted below.

Competitive market forces have been put forward as capable of creating the optimum conditions for furthering the public and consumer interests in the delivery of important public services such as telecommunications, energy, and transportation.
Concurrently, performance based regulation, sometimes cited as providing a bridge to a competitive end state, has enjoyed a surge in popularity as a preferred rate setting technique.

I have no real quarrel with the consideration of such models as potential tools in the regulatory toolbox. Where more effective ways can be devised to reach the desired objectives, they should be adopted. I do, however have some reservations about the retailing of these changes in the general currency of public debate and the subsequent assessment of their effectiveness.

In our view, regulators must resist the temptation to be uncritical apostles, when the deregulatory or reform revival tent hits town.
Uneconomic regulation is, of course, a burden to both the utility and the customers. However, too many of the current efforts are faith based initiatives. There is rarely any rigor in the regulatory analysis that attempts to redesign regulatory formats by comparison to the status quo, and little attempt to quantify costs and resultant benefits.

As former US President Harry Truman was fond of saying, “If you see your neighbour praying too loudly in church, better go home and lock your smokehouse.”

Canadian Bankers Association: Passing the buck

(PIAC 25/5/07)—In a Hamilton Spectator op-ed the Canadian Bankers Association said payday users: “would be far more advisable to consider credit counselling, where they can get help working with creditors to pay off their debts and learn solid money-management skills.”

The May 20 Spectator article cites PIAC’s 2002 report: Fringe Lending and Alternative Banking: The Consumer Experience which noted the market for payday lending customers does not differ greatly from the overall Canadian population and rejects the assertion that payday lenders are “primarily a market of society’s most disadvantaged.”

The CBA failed to mention the report’s conclusion—a plea to mainstream financial institutions to enter the payday loan market once the necessary changes were made to the Criminal Code usury provision.
For more information:piac.ca/financial/payday_lending

C-26: Payday Loan sharks will incorporate in the most favourable pool

(PIAC 25/5/07)—The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has led the fight to protect payday loan clients from unfair charges and usurious interest rates.

On May 3, C-26, an Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal interest rate), was proclaimed. This federal legislation gives the power to regulate the sector to provincial jurisdictions. Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have introduced legislation to regulate payday loan operations.

C-26 exempts payday lenders from Section 347 of the Criminal Code, which sets a 60 per cent legal maximum annual interest rate.
In a CanWest News report PIAC’s John Lawford explained: “We’re going to have a whole bunch of provinces with different regulatory regimes and the payday lenders will just set up in the weakest one”.

CanWest’s Carly Weeks’ May 7 report also noted: “the total fees applied to a typical $300 14-day payday loan would be $50, according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. Over the course of a year, that loan would end up costing 435 per cent of the amount borrowed. The same loan borrowed from a line of credit would cost $1.15.”

Neighbour’s cameras invade backyard of Guelph family

(PIAC 25/5/07)—A story in the Guelph Mercury points to the next frontier of privacy invasion, but this time it is not Big Brother.
A dispute between neighbours over a fence led one neighbour to retaliate by fixing cameras and lights on the home and yard of the other.

Brian Whitman’s Apr. 20 report quoted Guelph Police as saying no criminal activity is involved while an official with Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner said privacy laws focus on businesses and public institutions and aren’t as clear when it comes to individuals.

The Mercury quoted PIAC Counsel John Lawford: “We should be addressing it before it gets out of hand,” he said. “I think surveillance is a huge issue no one is talking about.”

PUBLIC INTEREST NEWS

April 20, 2007
Public Interest Advocacy Centre

Bill C-11 Airline Passengers: False advertising, no complaints, no numbers

(PIAC 20/4/07)—C-11 takes one step towards consumer protection. The Travel Protection Initiative won amendments mandating that the Transport Minister make regulations to deal with air carriers that advertise flights at one price, then charge a much higher price in the actual ticket sale after all the mandatory charges and fees are added in. C-11, which amends the Canadian Transportation Act, was given third reading in the House of Commons on February 28 and is now on its way to the Senate.

The Bill takes one a big step backwards by abolishing the Airlines Consumer Complaints Commissioner with no compensatory strengthening of outreach efforts by the Canadian Transportation Agency. The failure to win amendments giving the Minister the power and responsibility to monitor airline financial and operational performance will hardly improve passenger welfare in our Canjet, Jetsgo, Canada 3000 market. The Travel Protection Initiative (TPI) a coalition of travel industry and consumer groups, including PIAC, has been working for the last two years to modernize the Transport Canada’s supervision of the passenger interest in airline regulation.

April 18: Local telephone deregulation day

(PIAC 18/4/07)—“Bell Canada filed applications that would affect the markets in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, London, Hamilton, and Quebec City. It said more filings for other markets are on the way,” CBC News reported on April 12. “Telus filed similar applications for Vancouver and Edmonton, and also said additional applications for deregulation in other major markets would becoming. Aliant filed for deregulation of markets in the Halifax area.” CBC reported.

PIAC is concerned the “incumbents” will use deregulation to lock up their local land line monopolies. The dominant provider will offer choice only in terms of bundled services and special packages. In the immediate aftermath of the federal government’s deregulation announcement Telus stocks surged. This week Canadian media outlets have reported speculation on a BCE – Telus merger.

PIAC testimony: Banks haven’t fairly shared efficiency gains with all customers

(PIAC 18/4/07) In testimony to the House of Commons Industry Committee on April 17 PIAC and five other consumer groups argued:
1) the profitability of deposit and payment services for the banks has increased over the past decade, including over the past five years;
2) banks have not shared fairly their efficiency gains with all customers;
3) the Canadian shared ABM market is oversaturated, and quite possibly not viable in its current state;
4) the main strategic impetus for maintaining bank convenience fees is not only windfall profits, but customer retention in a competitive market;
5) in the middle term, bank convenience fees will probably eliminate from the market a significant number of shared ABM providers and would thus reduce both competition and network utility;
6) banks should be required to provide detailed breakdowns of costs and revenues from ABMs so Canadians can judge if the fees are fair;
7) there is currently no effective framework for Members of Parliament or government to address these issues:
8) banks should waive “convenience fees” for accessing accounts through a competitor’s ABM until Parliament has studied the question in detail.

Minister says C-6 Air safety download good: TC risk assessment disagrees

PIAC 4/18/07)—In a letter in today’s National Post Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon wrote: “Changes to the Canadian Aviation Regulations mean we are assessing safety at the system level rather than the operational level. This means that Transport Canada evaluates systems that operators put in place to ensure that employees are doing their jobs properly, that aircraft and aviation infrastructure are properly maintained, and that operators’ overall safety practices and procedures remain among the best in the world.”

An April 13 CanWest report said: “Transport Canada’s plan to eliminate regular safety audits of Canadian airlines could increase risks to the public and undermine the country’s aviation industry, according to a departmental risk assessment. Safety problems could be overlooked, airlines may not comply with federal aviation regulations and trained inspectors could lose the necessary skills to conduct large-scale safety audits if the department’s audit program is reduced, says the risk assessment,” CanWest’s Carly Weeks reported.

Telecommunications Consumer Agency: A good move

(PIAC 11/4/07)— Industry Minister Maxime Bernier’s April 4 telcom deregulation announcement included a call for an industry-designed and funded telecommunications consumer agency. The agency would report annually to Parliament and have the power to investigate complaints and order remedies. Until the TCA is up and running the CRTC will field consumer complaints.

PIAC supports the creation of an independent consumer protection agency along the lines of Australia’s Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman established in 1993.

Telcom dereg a victory for local monopolists

(PIAC 11/4/07)—On April 4 Industry Minister Maxime Bernier announced local telephone services will be deregulated on April 18. Bell and Telus praised the move. Consumers and the companies which might provide competition panned it.

Canwest News reported PIAC’s Michael Janigan “doesn’t believe most Canadians will benefit from lower prices due to an increase in competition and that phone companies will likely only offer deals to their best customers or those they’re trying to lure back. The incumbent telephone companies really want to price themselves like the banks price their services,” he said. “Lousy service and high costs for a smaller, less desirable customer and this is one step along the way,” Canwest’s Carly Weeks reported on April 5.

Phone companies will no longer require CRTC approval for price changes if there are least three land line and/or cell phone providers in a local market. The revised order-in-council also eliminates the three-month wait which currently prevents phone companies from trying to win back customers who have switched telephone providers. On April 6 the Globe and Mail’s Simon Tuck reported: “Although competition is growing, the big carriers, including Bell Aliant, Bell Canada, Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. and Saskatchewan Telecommunications, still held 90 per cent of residential and business local phone lines in 2005.”

Aviation Safety: Transport Canada versus the Auditor-General

(PIAC 11/4/07)—Transport Canada aviation safety employees were told “not to talk to the Office of the Auditor General before receiving clearance and further instructions from the department’s director of quality and resource management” according to CanWest News report. “Employees must also participate in briefings before and after they speak to the auditor general’s staff to “share information” on the activity,” CanWest’s Carly Weeks reported on March 28.

Merlin Preuss, the director of civil aviation at Transport Canada issued the memorandum and is the leading proponent of a public sector retreat from aviation safety. PIAC is currently pressing for whistleblower protection in C-6, amendments to the Aeronautics Act.

Telcom dereg: Minister’s vision clashes with market reality

(PIAC 4/4/07)—April 6 is the deadline for the order-in-council needed to adopt Industry Minister’s Maxime Bernier plan to fast-track local telephone deregulation. PIAC opposes Bernier’s plan and so do many of the corporations which are supposed to benefit.

According to a March 27 Ottawa Citizen report changes are coming that “centre on the market tests that measure competitiveness, as well as an “escape hatch” that allows the CRTC to step in where adequate competition isn’t present.” In her report the Citizen’s Deirdre McMurdy quoted PIAC’s Michael Janigan: “There’s some sober second thought taking place for certain. But because this is such a huge, personal, ideological investment by the minister, it’s more complicated.”

As it stands the minister’s plan all but eliminates CRTC consumer protection while protecting Bell and Telus local strangleholds.

35,000 White label ATMs

(PIAC 4/4/07)—“White labels have flourished since the Competition Bureau signed a deal with major financial institutions in 1996 that opened up the ABM industry to non-financial organizations,” the Globe and Mail reported on March 22.

PIAC counsel John Lawford will ask the Finance Committe to consider “a wider-ranging look into this market,” the Globe’s Tara Perkins wrote.
Perkins reported: “More than 35,000 white-label ABMs have sprung up in the past decade, while the banks own fewer than 16,000. Fees charged to consumers who withdraw cash at white-label ABMs range from $1.50 to $6.15, or 7.5 to 30.8 per cent of a $20 transaction, according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. Fees to withdraw money at a bank-owned machine range from nothing to $4.65.”

Ontario hydro price hikes

(PIAC 4/4/07)—Toronto Hydro wants to raise its distribution rates by 6.3 per cent on May 1. The public utility says it needs higher rates to make up for revenues lost because of energy conservation programs, the Hamilton Spectator reported on March 23.

“Michael Buonaguro of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre said higher distribution rates, which are only one section of hydro bills, don’t automatically increase costs to consumers, if they continue to conserve. Higher distribution rates can be offset by lower usage,” the Spectator’s Carmela Fragomeni reported.

“This doesn’t necessarily work for low-income families as they can’t afford new energy-efficient appliances and other energy-saving devices,” the Spectator reported.
PIAC is a member of the Vulnerable Energy Consumers Coalition which is a party to the Ontario Energy Board process considering a regulatory framework for electricity distributor’s conservation and demand management plans.

PUBLIC INTEREST NEWS

March 23, 2007
Public Interest Advocacy Centre

Do-not-call Maxime Bernier at (613) 995-9001

(PIAC 23/3/07) PIAC is calling on Canadians to call Industry Minister Maxime Bernier at (613) 995-9001. “Call him about the the do-not-call registry,” Michael Janigan, PIAC Executive Director and General Counsel urged. PIAC wants the federal government, at minimum, to give the CRTC the seed money it needs to set up a mechanism to protect consumers from telemarketers.

In a March 17 report the Edmonton Journal quoted Janigan saying: “I’m concerned that this is another thing that will fall between the cracks unless it is made a government priority. If there’s the political will to do it, then the money will be there.”

The Journal’s Mike Sadava wrote: “I’m sure I’m not alone in my reaction, and that millions of Canadians would prefer not to suffer through unsolicited phone calls.

“The United States, which is not exactly unfriendly to capitalism, has had a no-call registry for four years and a staggering 100 million people have signed onto it. Telemarketers in the U.S. are responsible for checking the list, and they can be fined up to $11,000 per call to people on the no-call list,” the Edmonton Journal reported.

ATM fees: Banking triple-dip

(PIAC 21/3/07) The Canadian Consumer Initiative’s John Lawford will ask during April testimony before the House of Commons Finance Committee why banks are so coy about their costs for running Automated Teller Machines (ATMs). CCI will be pressing for greater transparency in financial reports including details on revenues generated by fees and payment lag times.
A March 17 Toronto Star story quoted Lawford saying: “To me, [the ATM fee structure] looks like triple dipping.”

The Star’s Ellen Roseman reported: “When the Interac-shared cash-dispensing network started in the mid-1980s, it was paid for by bank customers in the cost of their accounts. Bank customers still pay a $1.50 Interac fee as part of their account packages. Depending on the type of account, customers may also pay a $1 fee for each ATM transaction if they exceed a monthly limit. Then, starting in 2000, customers began paying a $1.50 fee each time they used another bank’s machine to withdraw cash”.

Local phone dereg slowed by second tier telcos

(PIAC 16/3/07)—Industry Minister Maxime Bernier’s phone deregulation plan has hit a major roadblock in the form of Vonage Canada, Primus Canada, MTS Allstream and Distributel. The second tier telcos say rapid deregulation will only increase the market domination of the big phone and cable companies. According to a Feb. 28 report by the Ottawa Citizen’s Deirdre McMurdy the smaller telcos would take the order-in-council needed to implement Bernier’s plan to Federal Court.

Concerns about a consumer backlash are also slowing the Minister down. “The Minister’s plan isn’t about competition or the consumer. It’s about the spoils of victory,” says Michael Janigan, PIAC Executive Director and General Counsel. Bernier’s plan will leave consumers in the worst of worlds—unprotected in an uncompetitive market.

The Canadian Consumer Initiative made up of the Alberta Council on Aging Services, Automobile Protection Association, Consumers Council of Canada, Option consommateurs, Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Union des consommateurs is organizing opposition to the Minister’s plan.

Wireless number portability: A PIAC achievement

(PIAC 14/03/07)—On March 14 a CRTC rule change let consumers keep their cell number when changing phone companies. “It’s a step forward for consumers,” said Michael Janigan, PIAC Executive Director and General Counsel.

PIAC began advocating number portability as part of a Telecommunications Consumers Bill of Rights developed in 2003. In February 2005 a PIAC Report calling on the CRTC to “move expeditiously” kick-started the political process.

“The CRTC should do more by fully adopting the Telecommunications Consumers Bill of Rights,” Janigan said.

Do-not-call list needs government dollars: PIAC

(PIAC 14/3/07)—In November 2005 amendments to the Telecommunications Act calling for the establishment of a do-not-call registry were proclaimed. But according to an Ottawa Citizen report telemarketers will continue have open lines to Canadian homes until at least mid-2008.

PIAC led the effort to win this protection and has participated in the CRTC committee tasked with implementation.

On March 10 the Citizen’s Kristin Goff reported: “The fact that the government expects fees charged to marketing companies and businesses to cover the registry costs is a deal killer that pretty much ensures no one will step up to run it, says John Lawford, a lawyer for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. ... He suspects the CRTC will go back to Parliament saying that the registry needs federal funding to make the program fly.”

The Citizen reported about 100 million American household have signed-up with the U.S. registry which is run by AT&T and was setup in 2003 with federal seed money.

Cell Ombudsman Please!

(PIAC 7/3/07)—On March 14 cell phone consumers can move to another provider and take their number with them. Bell, Telus and the rest have unleashed a wave special packages to hold on to existing customers. Bell is giving breaks to Bell Mobility customers who phone Bell landlines. Rogers home phone customers can long distance each for free.

“You don’t get transparency as a result of this market acting on its own. They don’t compete on clarity of pricing,” said John Lawford, lawyer and research analyst with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa. “It’s one of the most Byzantine around”: the National Post reported on March 1, 2007.

“In Canada, cellphone prices have even less transparency than airline tickets, Mr. Lawford said. The industry needs a tracking authority or ombudsman, as suggested by the government’s Telecommunications Policy Review panel last year, like the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, which monitors credit card fees,” the Post reported.

Protect consumers on ATM fees and payment lag times, PIAC to testify

(PIAC 7/3/07)—“On March 1 the House of Commons finance committee voted to examine the two or three days it takes for a payment, done through Internet banking, to kick-in. MPs want to know why, with today’s technology, that payment can’t take effect immediately. They note that charges on a credit card kick in almost instantaneously,” the National Post reported on March 2, 2007.

The Post’s Paul Vieira quoted Laurence Booth, Rotman School of Management: The payment system is a natural monopoly,” he said. “It is clearly owned by the banks and controlled by the banks. And clearly there are public policy issues there.

“The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said the system should be federally regulated, much like in the United States and the European Union. Moreover, the current regime, it claims, is a confusing patchwork of rules, with different regulations governing debit cards, credit cards and preauthorized bank withdrawals,” the Post reported.

The Canadian Consumer Initiative will be testifying before the Finance Committee.

C-6 Air safety download: Fox in charge: Justice Moshansky

(PIAC 7/3/07)—Virgil Moshansky said the Aeronautics Act amendments needs to be toughened to avoid another disaster. “What concerns me about that is you’re relying on the carriers themselves to discover violations or weaknesses in their system. It’s like the fox being in charge of the hen house,” Canadian Press reported on March 1, 2007.

C-6 allows for industry self-regulation under the name of Safety Management Systems. As of Dec. 31, 2007 the airlines instead of Transport Canada inspectors will have the front line responsibility for safety management.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has advised the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities of concerns about the ongoing implementation of the amendments by regulations and orders. PIAC wants whistle-blower protection added to the Bill.