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Canada Needs Definition of Affordable Communications

New PIAC report: “No Consumer Left Behind: A Canadian Affordability Framework for Communications Services in a Digital Age”

OTTAWA, March 23, 2015 – Canadians need a clear definition of affordability of their communications services if they wish to realize the full potential of these services to connect them to Canadian society, concludes a new report released today by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC). In the report “No Consumer Left Behind: A Canadian Affordability Framework for Communications Services in a Digital Age”, PIAC surveys existing legal and policy explorations of how much Canadians can afford to pay for their communications services (wireline and wireless telephone, broadband Internet and broadcasting), and finds that Canada needs a comprehensive statement of affordability in order to move towards universal communications for Canadians.

“Canada has been silent on what affordable communications services means for too long,” noted John Lawford, PIAC’s Executive Director and General Counsel and co-author of the report. “We need to start the conversation – and to do that we need to know what affordability really means to low-income consumers.”

As part of the report, PIAC surveyed affordability regulations and policies in other countries but focused on understanding the Canadian consumer’s perspective on the affordability of communications services through:

  1. Focus groups held with members of ACORN Canada, a national advocacy organization of low and moderate income families;
  2. Interviews with local organizations who worked with low-income clients on a day-to-day basis; and
  3. Aggregate data of low-income consumers gathered from Credit Canada Debt Solutions.

“Lower income Canadians told us they need communications to fully participate in society, now more than ever,” said Alysia Lau, PIAC Legal Counsel and co-author of the report. “They are trying to cope, but they also need more control over what they spend, and more choice of services.”

The report recommends that Canada establish an explicit, enforceable universal service obligation for telecommunications and broadcasting services, and require communications services to be affordable to all Canadians.

The report finds that “affordability” must be carefully defined for this purpose. It must be relative – that is, consumers should not have to sacrifice or restrict purchasing other essential services such as heating, clothing or food in order to afford monthly communications services.  Affordability should respect Canadians’ needs for control over their costs and choice of communications services. In addition, the report recommended that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) undertake quantitative research on affordability on a yearly basis and make the findings and data public.

The full report in English:

PIAC No Consumer Left Behind – Final Report English

The full report in French:

PIAC No Consumer Left Behind – Final Report French

PIAC received funding from Industry Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-Profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations to prepare the report. The views expressed in the report are not necessarily those of Industry Canada or the Government of Canada.

For more information please contact:

John Lawford
Executive Director & General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
(613) 562-4002 ×25
Mobile: (613) 447-8125
lawford@piac.ca
www.piac.ca

 

Alysia Lau
Legal Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
(613) 562-4002 ×38
Mobile: (613) 400-9145
alau@piac.ca
www.piac.ca

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