Media Release: CCTS Annual Report Shows Need for Internet Code and Sales Practices Review

Media Release
CCTS Annual Report Shows Need for Internet Code and Sales Practices Review
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                  November 28, 2017
OTTAWA – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) today noted evidence in the 2016-2017 Annual Report of the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS) which indicates that home internet is inadequately regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). PIAC also found evidence in the CCTS Annual Report that indicates that sales practices of communications service providers of wireless telephone, wireline telephone, internet and subscription television services are aggressive and lead to excessive consumer complaints, and likewise should be inquired into by the CRTC.
“It is clear from the continuing increases in Internet complaints that the CRTC should create an “Internet Service Code” to regulate internet service providers,” noted John Lawford, PIAC’s Executive Director and General Counsel. “Internet service looks like wireless prior to the Wireless Code: many complaints about changing contract terms, overcharging and early cancellation fees,” Lawford continued.
Complaints regarding home Internet services jumped 38% to over 5,700 complaints. The CCTS noted that this is the seventh straight year that home Internet services complaints have risen.  Wireless complaints grew slightly, by 3%.
PIAC also singled out CCTS complaints about “non-disclosure of terms/misleading information about terms,” where consumers raised concerns about the nondisclosure of important information, or having been provided with misleading information, over 2,000 times this year, up 7% compared to last year.
“People get misled during negotiations on the phone or online with a communications salesperson,” said Lawford, “Recent news stories have highlighted this problem and here’s the proof. We call on the CRTC to inquire into sales practices across all telecom and television services, as this level of complaints about disinformation is unacceptable and unfair to consumers.”
Finally PIAC noted the delinquency of service providers in mentioning the services of the CCTS to their customers. The Annual Report shows: 92% of complainants to the CCTS were never informed of the CCTS by their service provider; 87% had not seen a notice on their bill and 89% had not seen any mention of the service provider’s website. There was no improvement over last year.
For more information please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
ONE Nicholas Street, Suite 1204
Ottawa, ON K1N 7B7
(613) 562-4002 x25
(613) 447-8125 (cell)

Proposed Air Passenger Rules Set for Take Off

Most important rights will be outlined by the Canadian Transportation Agency
OTTAWA, May 16, 2017 – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) today welcomed legislation announced today by the federal Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, to strengthen Canada’s air passenger rights. The proposed legislative framework should provide a single standardized set of air passenger rules to Canadians. The proposed rules ensure passengers are entitled to certain rights in situations where a flying experience does not go as expected.
“The proposed rules should provide much needed consumer rights on air travel issues,” noted John Lawford, Executive Director and General Counsel of PIAC. “If passed, these changes will ensure airlines universally apply the same level of professionalism whether passengers experience difficulties on the ground or in the air.”
Transport Canada indicated the new initiative would establish clear standards of treatment for air travelers in common situations as well as financial compensation under certain circumstances. Examples include:

  • Denied boarding (including in case of overbooking), delays and cancellations;
  • Lost or damaged baggage;
  • Tarmac delays over a certain period of time;
  • Seating children near a parent or guardian at no extra charge; and
  • Ensuring carriers develop clear standards for transporting musical instruments.

“PIAC is cautiously hopeful that the Canadian Transportation Agency will be able to respond to the expected volume of complaints that will be generated by the new consumer rights.  However, if the CTA is given this work without a major re-organization of the agency and greater resources, there could be turbulence,” Lawford noted.
“At the moment, the bar of expectation for consumers dealing with airlines rests firmly on the ground,” notes Jonathan Bishop, PIAC’s Research Analyst. “This element of Bill C-49 is a golden opportunity for the Canadian Transportation Agency to address the needs of air passengers in an effective manner, added Bishop. “Handled correctly, Canadians could benefit from a world-leading air passenger complaint regime.” concluded Bishop.
In 2015, PIAC was asked by the Transportation Act Review Secretariat to provide an analysis of air carrier rules from the consumer perspective. PIAC released its report entitled, Consumer Protection for Airline Passengers, in August of 2015. In the report, PIAC looked at consumer protections from around the world and recommended two elements: An Airline Code and an ombudsman for airline complaints. PIAC believes that these two methods together would ensure consumers knew their rights and, if an issue were to fall outside of listed rights, an ombudsman could deal with those complaints.
For more information please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director & General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
T: (613) 562-4002 ×25
C: (613) 447-8125
Jonathan Bishop
Research and Parliamentary Analyst
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
T: (613) 562-4002 ×23

CRTC Protects Consumers from Discriminatory Differential Pricing Practices

New rules strictly limit when internet service providers can bill differently depending on the content Canadians access
OTTAWA, April 20, 2017 – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) today welcomed new rules generally prohibiting internet service providers (ISPs) from billing customers for data based on content. The new rules require that all data generally be billed at the same rate regardless of the type of data consumers access, effectively ending “differential pricing” or “zero-rating”.
“This is a clear win for Canadian consumers that future-proofs their internet access from arbitrary control by their internet provider,” said John Lawford, Executive Director and General Counsel of PIAC. “Gone are the days of unjust preference of certain services and extra costs for consumers that are not on higher cost plans.”
Under the new framework announced in today’s decision of the Canadian Radio-television and telecommunications Commission (CRTC), consumers, consumer groups, and competitors will be able to bring a complaint when an internet service provider engaged in differential pricing. The CRTC will consider whether the pricing is unjustly discriminatory, taking into account:

  • the degree to which the treatment of data is “agnostic” (i.e. data is treated equally regardless of its source or nature);
  • whether the offering is exclusive to certain customers or certain content providers;
  • the impact on Internet openness and innovation; and
  • whether there is financial compensation involved.

Applying this framework to Videotron’s “Unlimited Music” program, the CRTC concluded that Videotron’s program conferred an undue disadvantage on certain content providers and customers and effectively ordered Videotron to halt the program.
PIAC led an alliance of non-profit consumer groups known as the Equitable Internet Coalition (EIC) that challenged the Videotron practice. The Coalition included the British Columbia Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BC-PIAC), Consumers’ Association of Canada (CAC); Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of British Columbia (COSCO); and National Pensioners Federation (NPF).
For more information please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director & General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
T: (613) 562-4002 ×25
C: (613) 447-8125

#WCRD2017: Building an Affordable Digital World For Everyone

March 14, 2017

Tomorrow is World Consumer Rights Day 2017, Building a Digital World Consumers Can Trust. Organized by Consumers International, of which PIAC is a member, this year’s WCRD theme is consumer digital rights, including one of four key digital issues—“access and choice” to high-speed internet. Broadband access, however, is almost impossible to discuss without addressing the affordability of broadband internet. At PIAC, we ask, “How do we build a digital world that is affordable for everyone?”
The digital world has become an integral and ever-growing part of our everyday lives. Many of us now find jobs on the internet, housing, school, make medical appointments, and – since it is that time of year in Canada – even file our taxes online. Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains has said:

Today, the digital economy is the economy. There is not a single industry that digital technologies don’t touch anymore. […] Canada must do more to give people the skills and experience they need to compete in a global and digital world. In particular, we need to give every Canadian the opportunity to get online. No one should be left behind.¹

Are governments and policy makers in Canada and the rest of the world ensuring everyone can get online? PIAC believes much more can and must be done, especially to ensure low-income families – those who could benefit most from being online – can affordably access broadband.
Broadband adoption can be affected by a number of factors, including geographic access to broadband infrastructure, digital literacy, privacy and security concerns, and personal choice. However, cost has consistently been a key barrier to adoption and one for which Canada has largely fallen short of finding a solution yet.
According to a national telephone survey commissioned by PIAC in 2015, only 74% of Canadians with annual household incomes under $20,000, and 78% of Canadians with annual incomes between $20,000 and $30,000, had internet service at home. Meanwhile, 99% of Canadians with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more had home internet service. When asked why survey respondents did not have home internet, cost was the second most cited reason after a professed lack of interest—almost one third (30%) of respondents said cost was a reason why they did not have home internet service. Only about 5% of respondents said there was no high-speed internet service available where they lived. This means low-income Canadians in both urban and rural areas are not going online.
However, there is evidence that those low-income Canadians who can access internet service value it greatly. A separate survey commissioned by PIAC with low-income individuals indicates that respondents perceive home internet access (77%) to be equally important as health care, and more important than all other items listed except food (91%) and housing (88%). Television was viewed as an important service to over half the respondents (54%), just behind clothing. Meanwhile landline phones and mobile phones were cited as almost equally important to each other, with 46% of respondents indicating traditional telephone service is important, compared to 44% who indicated mobile phone service was important.
Figure 1. PIAC Survey of Low-Income Canadians Who Use the Internet (2015)

PIAC’s 2016 report, No Consumer Left Behind Part II², found low-income Canadians struggle to afford their communications services (including phone, internet and TV).

  • About one-half of low-income Canadians had to trade off other household goods or services in order to pay their communications bills—almost 1 in 5 (17%) indicated they went without other essential goods, such as food, medicine or clothing, in order to pay a communications bill.
  • About 20% of low-income subscribers struggled to pay off their communications bills in the past year, having to make partial payments; suspend or disconnect their service; commit to a payment plan; or be referred to debt collectors.
  • More than 1 in 10 respondents (11%) ultimately cancelled a communications service because of the high cost.

What does this mean? This means many low-income families need to sacrifice other household goods, including at times food and medicine, or struggle in order to pay for communications services. Based on PIAC’s report, this means those communications services are not affordable for low-income individuals. This existing problem no longer requires talk, but action; there needs to be a policy solution to ensure low-income households can have more control over their communications expenditures. The Government of Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and other telecommunications policy makers must act in order to ensure there is affordable broadband today.
In the CRTC’s hearing on basic telecommunications services one year ago, the Affordable Access Coalition, including PIAC, advocated for an Affordability Funding Mechanism which would provide a subsidy discount for low-income users of telecom services. In its final policy³, the CRTC decided not to address affordability for low-income households at all, and instead asked the Canadian federal government to add this issue to its forthcoming Innovation Agenda. At the moment, therefore, there is no national solution to ensure low-income families can get online at home and no guarantee one is forthcoming. While some telecom providers are offering limited home internet packages to small groups of low-income consumers, Canada needs a national affordability plan to ensure all Canadian consumers can participate in the digital world. We must demand that policy makers stop passing the buck.
Affordable broadband will not only be a challenge in Canada but for all low-income consumers wishing to go online around the world. It is a challenge all governments and policy makers must recognize and urgently address.
Universal digital participation is key to innovation and to building a digital world consumers can trust. For World Consumer Rights Day 2017, we believe Canada needs to ensure there is affordable broadband internet for all.

¹ Government of Canada, “Innovation Minister says the digital economy is the economy” (17 November 2016), online: Government of Canada.
² Jonathan Bishop & Alysia Lau, No Consumer Left Behind Part II: Is There A Communications Affordability Problem in Canada? (Ottawa: Public Interest Advocacy Centre, 2016), online: PIAC
³ See: Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-496.

PIAC Participates in Parliamentary Review of PIPEDA

On February 14, 2017, PIAC appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics as part of a review of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).
PIAC outlined its arguments for changes to PIPEDA, including in relation to protecting children’s privacy, strengthening rules around data retention, destruction and right to erasure of data, and the enforcement capacity of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
For further details, please consult PIAC’s oral remarks.

Collections, Data Charges Continue to Plague Telecommunications Consumers, CCTS Mid-Year Report Shows

OTTAWA, March 30, 2016–Telecommunications companies continue to send disputed bills to collections even when consumers complain to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS), reveals the 2015-16 CCTS Mid-Year Report, said consumer group the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).  Recent guidance from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) noted collection action for disputed bills should be suspended during CCTS complaints process.  However, in over 300 cases so far this year, issues with credit reporting show the companies are using unfair leverage when consumers make legitimate complaints.
“Telecom companies must stop holding customers hostage when they dare to bring a complaint to the CCTS,” noted John Lawford, Executive Director and General Counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.  “Unfair referrals to collection during legitimate consumer disputes undermine the integrity of the dispute resolution process, is threatening to consumers and must stop.”
The Mid-Year Report also contains high numbers of complaints related to excess data charges: there were nearly 300 data overage charge complaints.
“Recently, media outlets suggested minors are routinely able to consent to data charges beyond a monthly shared data plan allocation. The Wireless Code does not address this issue directly, nor can the CCTS. It’s a system set up to fail parents while padding the bottom line for service providers,” stated Jonathan Bishop, Research Analyst for PIAC.
For more information please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
ONE Nicholas Street, Suite 1204
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 7B7
(613) 562-4002 x25
(613) 447-8125 (cell)
Jonathan Bishop
Research & Parliamentary Affairs Analyst
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
(613) 562-4002 ×23

PIAC's Annual Dinner Is Only A Few Months Away!

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre will be holding it’s annual dinner on Friday, November 27th at 6 PM at the National Arts Centre. We’ve had another big year (you may have read about it in our most recent newsletter!) and we’re looking to close it out with a great evening of food, drinks, music and an exciting guest speaker.
We’ll also be discussing PIAC’s work and what we have planned for the new year!
More information will be coming soon. We look forward to seeing you there!

Pick-and-Pay and Skinny Basic are a GO

PIAC supports CRTC decision to increase choice and flexibility for Canadian TV subscribers
OTTAWA, March 19, 2015 – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) supports the decision made by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) today to increase choice and flexibility for Canadian television consumers.
“Today’s measures will ensure that Canadians will be the ones who decide how to access television content and what they want to pay for it,” said John Lawford, Executive Director and Counsel to PIAC. “That choice should fall to Canadian consumers, not their television service providers.”
The latest CRTC Let’s Talk TV decision will require licensed television service providers to offer a skinny basic television package for $25 by March 2016 and most channels à la carte and in small customized packages by December 2016. Television service providers must begin to offer pick-and-pay or small customized or pre-assembled packages by March 2016. However, smaller television service providers, including those providing analog service, will not be required to offer their customers skinny basic and pick-and-pay options.
At the CRTC hearing last September, PIAC in a coalition with other public interest organizations advocated for greater choice and flexibility – including through pick-and-pay and skinny basic options.
“Canadian consumers were getting frustrated with soaring prices for television that didn’t necessarily give them the content they wanted to watch,” said Alysia Lau, Legal Counsel at PIAC. “We would have wanted all Canadian consumers to benefit from pick-and-pay and a skinny basic package, but the CRTC’s decision will increase flexibility and make TV service more affordable for many Canadians.”
The CRTC decision also initiates a consultation into a “Wholesale Code” which will regulate affiliation agreements between television programmers and distributors, and establishes rules for independent, official minority language, and ethnic channels which must be offered.
PIAC participated in Let’s Talk TV in a coalition with other organizations named the Groups for the Public Interest. The Groups also included the:

  • Canadian Ethnocultural Council;
  • Consumers’ Association of Canada;
  • Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia;
  • National Pensioners Federation; and
  • Option consommateurs.

For more information please contact:
Alysia Lau
Legal Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
(613) 562-4002×38
Mobile: (613) 400-9145
Geoff White
Counsel to the Groups for the Public Interest
(613) 562-4002×24
Mobile: (613) 612-1190

Media Release: PIAC Applauds Competition Bureau Lawsuit for Premium Text Messages

OTTAWA – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) today welcomed the Competition Bureau’s demand that major Canadian wireless companies pay administrative monetary penalties for misleading advertising and repay consumers who have been victims of premium text messaging abuses.
“Consumers have complained for years of misleading advertisements for premium text messages that appear to provide a one-time service – for example a contest entry or quiz – but subscribe a consumer to a costly ongoing subscription service.” said John Lawford, Executive Director and General Counsel for PIAC.
The Competition Bureau’s lawsuit against Bell Canada (Bell), Rogers Communications Inc. (Rogers), TELUS Corporation (TELUS) and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) seeks refunds of all consumer charges as well as $10 million maximum administrative monetary penalties from Bell, Rogers and TELUS for allowing premium rate text messages to be sent that offered consumers misleading services. The suit also seeks $1 million from CWTA industry association, which manages the premium text messaging system and an industry code.
“CWTA’s self-regulatory model for premium text messaging code is not adequate to protect consumers where advertisements are misleading or where terms and conditions are unclear to consumers,” noted Janet Lo, counsel at PIAC and author of the 2011 PIAC report “Paying a Premium: Consumers and Mobile Premium Services”. “Wireless service providers and the industry association have claimed for years that their self-regulatory code was sufficient to protect consumers from third party text messaging services, when in reality they have collected these charges and kept a share for themselves.”
Lo noted that consumers had suffered millions of dollars of unasked for and unwanted premium text messages charges for services that were hard to cancel and difficult to obtain refunds for, despite the CWTA code of conduct.
PIAC called in its 2011 report for an investigation by the Competition Bureau and other relief from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
“The Competition Bureau has sent a clear signal that this is a major consumer problem and that it should be treated seriously by the wireless industry,” said Lawford.
Competition Bureau Media Release

Links to PIAC Media Releases on Transport

Transport Media Releases