Consumer Groups welcome “MVNO” Wireless Competition in Canada

OTTAWA, 15 April 2021 – Consumers will benefit from “MVNO” wireless competition permitted today by Canada’s telecommunications regulator, said the “Coalition for Cheaper Wireless Service” (CCWS) a group of consumer, low-income and seniors groups whose members are the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC); ACORN Canada (ACORN); National Pensioners Federation (NPF); and CARP (formerly Canadian Association of Retired Persons).
John Lawford, PIAC Executive Director and General Counsel, welcomed the decision, noting: “Consumers made the case that they have too few choices and too high prices for cellphone service in Canada. The CRTC has finally cleared a path for MVNOs and we trust they will find Canadians are very willing to try a new wireless option.”
Certain “eligible regional” mobile virtual network operators or “MVNOs” will be permitted to resell the wireless services of major, established wireless companies Bell Mobility, TELUS Mobility and Rogers, with some conditions, based on wholesale access to these established companies – which is what the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) finally required today.
Lawford noted that consumers will have to wait a little longer for the new competition while MVNOs and the “big 3” negotiate rates and the CRTC arbitrates dispute.
Finally, Bell, TELUS and Rogers will be required “offer and promote low-cost plans and occasional-use plans in an effort to benefit Canadians, including those who are elderly or low-income earners, as well as those who use their mobile devices sparingly.”  The CCWS specifically asked for cellphone plans for low-income Canadians and seniors.
“We hope to see these affordable options soon,” added Lawford. “Seniors and lower-income Canadians need wireless connections now more than ever.”
For more information, please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director and General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
613-562-4002 ext. 125 (New)
(613) 447-8125 (cell)
jlawford@piac.ca
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Air Canada Passengers May Apply for COVID-19 Refunds

OTTAWA, 13 April 2021 – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) today welcomed the agreement reached between the federal government and Air Canada to provide it financial support, while obliging the airline to refund passengers due to cancelled pandemic flights. PIAC, on behalf of airline customers affected by the pandemic, has demanded refunds for all flights, including “non-refundable” tickets: No Refund = No Bailout.
“We are pleased that the Federal government has stood by consumers to ensure those who had to cancel flights or whose flights were cancelled due to COVID-19 will get full refunds,” stated John Lawford, PIAC Executive Director and General Counsel.
“However, we caution customers to immediately inform themselves about the process to get refunds as there are time limits and conditions,” he added.
According to Air Canada, it will offer the option of a refund to eligible customers who purchased non-refundable fares or who voluntarily cancelled their travel due to COVID-19, since 1 February 2020. Money for the refunds comes from a government loan: “$1.4 billion in the form of an unsecured credit facility tranche to support customer refunds of non-refundable tickets.”
Please note that Air Canada has provided a 60 day deadline to apply for refunds. Air Canada states: “Customers can request a refund online at www.aircanada.com/refund until June 12, 2021.”
Information released so far suggests that customers will need to take positive steps to apply for the refunds, that is, refunds will not be applied automatically. Also unclear is whether passengers who have already applied for a refund will have to re-apply under this new procedure.
PIAC also cautions consumers that from 13 April 2021 forward, Air Canada will institute a new refunds and cancellations policy: “Air Canada will provide customers an option for a refund to the original form of payment in instances where Air Canada cancels their flight or reschedules the departure time by more than three hours, irrespective of the reason. Air Canada customers will also have the option of accepting an ACTV or Aeroplan points with a 65% bonus. For customers who make voluntary changes, normal fare rules will apply. Air Canada has also extended its existing goodwill policy so that customers can make a one-time change without a fee for all new or existing bookings made through May 31, 2021 for original travel until May 31, 2022.”
Finally, PIAC notes that this refund program, as of now, just covers Air Canada; customers of other airlines must wait to see whether the government concludes similar bailout deals with other carriers (e.g., Westjet, Air Transat, Sunwing, Porter, etc.) and whether they will receive refunds and how they plan to provide passenger refunds. PIAC will monitor developments.
For more information, please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director and General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
613-562-4002 ext. 125 (New)
jlawford@piac.ca
— 30 —

CCTS Mid-Year Report Shows Troubling Internet Issues

OTTAWA, 29 March 2021 – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) noted that the 2020-21 Mid-Year Report of the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) released today shows a 6% year over year increase in consumer complaints during the months of August 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021. Customers raised more issue Internet-related issues during COVID-19 lockdown, concerning poor service quality and complete loss of service at a time when Canadians rely on internet services to complete essential activities.
“As expected, increased home internet usage by Canadians under lockdown showed the weaknesses in Canada’s Internet industry and regulation,” noted John Lawford, PIAC’s Executive Director and General Counsel. “The CRTC’s ‘Internet Code’ had only four violations despite thousands of Internet complaints – proving it’s a dead letter,” he added.
Rogers and Fido in particular, saw a rise in complaints against those brands of 23.9% and 45.3% respectively. PIAC is concerned with the trends for this corporation, given its stated intention to acquire Shaw.
Wireless services continued to be the most complained about service, although it saw a decline of 19.5% versus an increase of 6.2% for Internet services. Disclosure issues still remain a major problem as they were the top consumer concern (13% of all issues), followed by incorrect charges (12.7%) and intermittent/inadequate quality of service (11.3%) and within this issue category, complaints relating to Internet quality of service saw a 41.4% increase.
PIAC notes that disclosure concerns are a common issue year after year despite an inquiry into the sales practices of telecommunications providers by the CRTC that pointed the industry towards several flaws in their behaviour.
For more information, please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director and General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
613-562-4002 ext. 125 (New)
(613) 447-8125 (cell)
jlawford@piac.ca
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PIAC to talk on The Action to Get Affordability panel at the Affordable Internet Day of Action

OTTAWA – March 16, 2021 – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre will participate in today’s Affordable Internet Day of Action, taking place at 1 p.m. E.D.T., virtually.
Executive Director and General Counsel, John Lawford, is a panellist during the 4 p.m. discussion “ The Action We Need Right Now – How We Get Affordability: It’s time for new approaches and a break from the status quo.” Mr. Lawford will present PIAC’s argument for how to move from a solid legal ground to affordable internet to consumer action to achieve it.
The one-day virtual conference includes a coalition of partners and organizations dedicated to demanding affordable internet for all Canadians.
The event is open to the public and pre-registration is available here.
Full agenda and further details at https://www.affordable-internet.ca/
For more information:
John Lawford
Executive Director/General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
613-562-4002 x 25
Cell: 613-447-8125
Email: jlawford@piac.ca
-30-

Rogers-Shaw Deal is Bad Medicine for Consumers

OTTAWA, March 15, 2021 – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) today expressed serious concern with the announcement by Rogers Communications Inc. (“Rogers”) that it will acquire the business of Shaw Communications Inc. (“Shaw”).
The deal would cover cable TV, Internet and wireless assets. The result would mean fewer wireless competitors in many Canadian markets.
“Canadians will not benefit from having fewer wireless competitors; they will pay more,” said John Lawford, Executive Director and General Counsel of PIAC.
The deal could undo a series of government actions over the last 15 years to promote a fourth national wireless carrier to help bring down cellphone prices in Canada. While Rogers claims it will not raise prices for Shaw’s “Freedom Mobile” wireless customers for three years, the structural shift from four carriers in most Canadian cities to only three will risk reduced competition in the wider cellphone market, as competitive pressure is removed from Rogers, Bell Mobility and TELUS Mobility.
Rogers also promised expansion of rural, indigenous and low-income connectivity programs.
“No amount of short-term sugar will help this medicine go down,” added Lawford. “The real harm to consumers from this deal cannot be wished away by promises to do things these companies should be doing to help the country, anyways.”
For more information, please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director and General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
(613) 447-8125 ext. 125
(613) 447-8125 (cell)
jlawford@piac.ca

PIAC to participate in National Day of Action for Affordable Internet

OTTAWA – February 26, 2021 – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre announced today its participation in the upcoming National Day of Action for Affordable Internet on March 16. The one-day virtual conference includes a coalition of partners and organizations dedicated to demanding affordable internet for all Canadians.
“All consumers, but especially low-income Canadians, struggle to afford internet and cellphone connections in an environment made infinitely more difficult by inadequate laws, regulatory capture and market dominance by big companies. The first step is protest, the next is action on all of these barriers,” noted John Lawford, PIAC’s Executive Director and General Counsel.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, PIAC along with ACORN Canada and the National Pensioners Federation has called for the federal government to ensure fair and affordable Internet access for All Canadians and particularly low-income Canadians and seniors on fixed incomes. Most recently, ACORN, NPF and PIAC have demanded the federal government create a $50 rebate to consumers for the remainder of COVID-19, as the US has already done. Their proposed “Canadian Broadband Benefit” (CBB) would provide a $50 rebate for low-income Canadians, fixed-income seniors and those who would otherwise qualify for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit due to lost employment income.
Lawford says the pandemic has brought attention to structural inequalities for Canadians to have fair access to affordable internet.
“The pandemic has not created these issues, but it’s certainly brought them to the forefront,” says Lawford. “Now is the time to act to ensure all Canadians can access and afford the Internet services they need.”
The National Day of Action for Affordable Internet will be streamed live on March 16. Canadians who wish to attend can find agenda, details and registration at https://www.affordable-internet.ca/
For more information:
John Lawford
Executive Director/General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
613-562-4002 x 125
Cell: 613-447-8125
jlawford@piac.ca
-30-

CCTS Annual Report 2019-20 Shows Internet Code, TV Code are Dead Letters

OTTAWA – 30 November 2020 – The Commission for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS) Annual Report 2019-20 of consumer complaints about communications services shows that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) “Internet Code” and “TV Service Provider Code” do not protect consumers and indeed are “dead letters” that mislead consumers into believing their Internet and TV use is protected when it is not, today said the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
The CCTS Report shows that consumers were able to use the Internet Code to vindicate their complaints against Internet Service Providers only 1.4% of the time.  Likewise, consumers’ ability to rely upon the TV Service Provider Code to support their TV service complaints also was successful only 1.4% of the time.
“These two CRTC codes are dead letters, as they permit companies to raise prices mid-contract and to charge early cancellation fees, which are two of the largest complaint-drivers for consumers,” stated John Lawford, Executive Director and General Counsel of PIAC.  “The CRTC claims that these codes increase clarity of contracts and empower consumers but clearly they do the opposite: they disappoint consumers who complain,” he added.
Lawford contrasted the Internet Code and TV Service Provider Code with the CRTC’s earlier “Wireless Code” and “Deposit and Disconnections Code“, both of which contain important substantive protections for consumers, such as prohibitions on price changes during the contract period and clear rules for disconnections.  Consumers were able to rely on the Wireless Code to support their complaint 6.5% of the time, while those using the Deposit and Disconnection Code successfully called it in aid over 7% of the time.
“The major complaint issues raised with the CCTS were about ‘disclosure’ and ‘billing’. That’s code words for the companies changing prices mid-contract, mis-selling at the start of the contract or charging huge termination fees. The answer is simple: outlaw price changes during the contract, whether for Internet, wireless, TV or home phone,” stated Lawford. PIAC has previously alerted consumers to the inadequacy of the Internet Code.
For more information, please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director and General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
Tel: 613-562-4002 ext. 125
Cell: 613-447-8125
jlawford@piac.ca
 

Telecom Fail – CCTS Compliance Report 2019

Ottawa – 19 November 2020 – Canadian telecommunications companies are unacceptably failing to comply with resolutions and in some cases falsely claiming to resolve consumer complaints to Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS), according to the 2019 Compliance Monitoring Report, says consumer advocacy group the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
“We are shocked, but not surprised, at the companies’ variety of non-compliance with a simple complaint resolution scheme for telecom customers,” stated John Lawford, PIAC’s Executive Director and General Counsel. “Consumers have told us for years that problems exist with the process.”
The 2019 CCTS Compliance Report, found:
1 – PSPs (“Participating Service Providers”) indicated to CCTS that complaints from customers were resolved when they actually remained unresolved in the opinion of customers. The Report notes a reduction in these issues (in particular for one major PSP) after education and communication with the CCTS.
2 – Failure to implement resolutions, recommendations and decisions is widespread amongst PSPs.
3 – In two documented cases, PSPs threatened customers, either by imposing an additional fee on a customer, or even with a lawsuit for having filed a complaint with the CCTS. In other cases, the PSPs were found to pressure customers to withdraw their complaints (18 instances).
4 – Widespread failure by PSPs to properly present the option to complain to the CCTS on their website.
“PIAC has asked CCTS for some years to add a new complaint category for ‘failure to action’ complaint resolutions and that this should be logged and treated as a new complaint, as is done by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman in Australia,” added Lawford.
For more information:
John Lawford
Executive Director and General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
Tel: 613-562-4002 ext. 125
Cell: 613-447-8125
jlawford@piac.ca

Privacy Bill C-11 Hollows out Consumer Privacy

OTTAWA– (16 November 2020) Consumer privacy in Canada will be destroyed if Bill C-11, the Digital Charter Implementation Act, 2020 [including Part 1 – Consumer Privacy Protection Act], is passed, said the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (“PIAC”) today .
This new Bill is intended to replace and strengthen the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”) and but conversely hurts consumer privacy by removing key consent requirements.
PIAC Executive Director, John Lawford stated: “We are aghast that the federal government feels it can weaken consumer privacy with a doublespeak Bill that removes a consumer’s right to protect his or her personal information that is used for any ‘business activity’ if it is ‘de-identified’ or used for what the government deems is a ‘socially beneficial purpose’. This counterproductive Bill should be withdrawn and rewritten to protect consumers, not to favour big business,” he added.
Other changes to privacy brought about by the Bill, such as  Privacy Commissioner order making power and increased fining power, and the creation of a separate “Privacy Tribunal” do not counter the fundamental flaw built into the Bill, according to PIAC. “People should not look at the shiny new toys offered in this Bill – what one hand is giving, the other is very much taking away,” added Lawford.
For more information please contact:
 
John Lawford
Executive Director and General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
Tel: 613-562-4002 ext. 125
Cell: 613-447-8125
jlawford@piac.ca

Comments on Ontario Privacy Consultation: PIAC Calls for Strengthening PIPEDA and Introducing Provincial Employment Privacy Legislation

OTTAWA– (16 October 2020) The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (“PIAC”) today responded to the government of Ontario’s Consultation to strengthen privacy protections in Ontario with PIAC’s recommendations for strengthening privacy protections in Ontario’s private sector, preferably by strengthening the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”) and introducing provincial employment privacy legislation.
PIAC recommended bolstering privacy protections – whether in PIPEDA or a new Ontario statute – by making privacy a right, by widening the scope of privacy legislation and by greatly increasing compliance and enforcement powers of privacy authorities.
PIAC Executive Director, John Lawford stated: “We agree privacy of Ontarians and indeed all Canadians needs strengthening for a truly digital age. The best approach is to make privacy a consumer right and to enable consumers to enforce that right – whoever takes the lead.”
PIAC’s recommendations would help to align Canadian privacy legislation with other key jurisdictions, including the state of California and the European Union (“EU”). The EU General Data Protection Regulation  (“GDPR”), recognizes and balances individuals’ right to privacy with business and government interests in processing personal information.
“Whatever the outcome of Ontario’s efforts, we hope that they will enhance public trust in consumer privacy, allow businesses to innovate, increase participation in the digital economy and preserve democracy,” Lawford added.
Please click here for a copy of PIAC’s submission to the Government of Ontario.
For more information please contact:
 
John Lawford
Executive Director and General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
Tel: 613-562-4002 ext. 125
Cell: 613-447-8125
jlawford@piac.ca