We Fight For That – Episode 8: Klass Consciousness: CRTC MVNO decision, telecom socialism & Shaw-Rogers deal with Ben Klass

EPISODE NOTES

Will the CRTC’s recent decision on mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) provide new wireless competition in Canada? We discuss this in excruciating detail with Ben Klass, PhD Candidate and telecom policy wunderkind. The answer: not likely, sorry.  This likely result leads the conversation to frustrations with Canadian telecom regulation of competition, including wholesale rates that end up affecting how many competitors consumers have to choose from and how much they charge for cellphone service as well as telecom mergers, such as Rogers buying Shaw, which appear to be a way for industry to avoid regulation.  This leads us to consider how much public interest should be in telecommunications and how to get more for consumers.  Retail rate regulation? Structural separation? Political action?  All are on the table. There may be some hope for consumers needing low-cost wireless services, however, as the MVNO decision requires the Big 3 to offer affordable cellphone plans.  We shall see.
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PIAC and FRPC file CRTC Application to Ensure Continued Funding of the Broadcasting Participation Fund (BPF)

OTTAWA (21 April 2021) – The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications (FRPC) today filed a Part 1 Application with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to protect consumer and public participation in Canadian broadcasting regulation in an era of fundamental change to the Canadian broadcasting system.  The Application seeks continuing funding of  the pivotal  Broadcasting Participation Fund (BPF), which provides funds to consumer and public interest groups in CRTC broadcasting matters.  The BPF faces serious budget shortfalls in the coming years unless the CRTC and the broadcasting industry find a new way to support public participation on key questions of what Canadians can watch, listen to or be entertained by, whether on their TVs, radios, computers or cellphones.
“The Broadcasting Participation Fund allows PIAC and FRPC, and many other consumer groups to protect consumer interests in broadcasting at the CRTC.  Without it, the consumer voice on upcoming legislation on regulating internet speech, news, media mergers such as Rogers and Shaw, the CBC’s licences and the regulation of online shows will be silenced,” stated John Lawford, Executive Director and General Counsel of co-applicant PIAC.
The application highlights the precarious nature of the support of public interest advocacy in broadcasting, before the CRTC, and the importance of continuing support of the consumer voice.  It also notes that there will be a long transition to the major reforms of broadcasting in Bill C-10, which Parliament is presently considering and which will require considerable public participation to implement fairly for all.
Monica Auer, Executive Director of co-Applicant FRPC noted: “The issues that face Canadian broadcasting in the 21st century are too important to be decided without the informed public input that organizations such as PIAC, the Forum and others provide.”
“The CRTC recognized some years ago that the BPF was crucial to a balanced and reasoned debate on broadcasting matters touching consumers every day,” added Lawford, “we are just asking that this be continued as we set the new rules for broadcasters.”
For more information, please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director/General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
285 McLeod Street – Suite 200
Ottawa, ON  K2P 1A1
jlawford@piac.ca
613-562-4002 ext 125 [new!]
Fax 562-0007
Cell: 613-447-8125
https://www.piac.ca
@CanadaPIAC
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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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We Fight For That – Episode 7: Rogers-Shaw Merger – Part 2 – Discussion with Konrad von Finckenstein

EPISODE NOTES

John Lawford, PIAC’s Executive Director and General Counsel welcomes special guest Konrad von Finckenstein, PIAC’s current Chair of the Board, to work through options the Competition Bureau, the CRTC and the Industry Minister could have to modify the deal to preserve at least some competition.  In a spirited conversation, Mr. Lawford attempts to outline consumer frustration with the process and the deal, while Mr. von Finckenstein calmly discusses the cold, hard calculations in the regulatory, merger and political fields and how they could play out in a frankly challenging merger with no easy way to ensure the same level of competition before and after. He should know: he has been Commissioner of Competition,  Chair of the CRTC,  advisor on mergers to the Industry Minister,  Federal Court of Appeal justice and much more. But that doesn’t stop Mr. Lawford from trying. Both agreed, however, that the CRTC’s upcoming MVNO decision, expected the very next day, would change the context and maybe the entire conversation.
We hope that this lively exchange of views will help consumers understand the complexities of mergers in Canada and that their voice is needed.
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We Fight For That – Episode 6: Rogers-Shaw Merger – Part 1: Anatomy of a Merger

EPISODE NOTES

John Lawford, PIAC’s Executive Director and General Counsel, explains merger review in Canada in light of the proposed Rogers-Shaw merger. What fun.
Competition law basics are described but the real process of applying them to a deal by the Competition Bureau and the parties is covered, along with the roles of the CRTC and the Minister of Innovation Science and Industry in the Department of Industry, Science and Economic Development (ISED).
This convoluted process has previously resulted in blocking 0 of 6 previous wireless mergers.  What do you think are the odds of stopping number 7?
Consumers can have an effect and should express their views to all of these government bodies. PIAC will be as well, but the only real voice belongs to the consumers who buy and use wireless, Internet and other services of these large telecommunications companies.  Have your say!
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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
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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
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We Fight for That – Episode 5: The Epic Battle for Your Privacy with Yuka Sai

We discuss Bill C-11, a proposed law to change our federal private sector privacy act that protects consumers private information when they deal with businesses.
PIAC’s articling student, Yuka Sai, joins John Lawford to discuss the epic battle between business, with an assist from the federal government, and consumers over privacy.
This battle centres on Bill C-11 and in particular, the part called the “Consumer Privacy Protection Act”.
This doublespeak title hides the facts that the bill will amend our present Canadian private sector privacy act, the Personal Information and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), to allow collection and use of your personal information for any “business purpose” without your consent. This is a reversal of the law that, what, they thought we would just not notice? Seriously? Also discussed is the issue of anonymization of data, the difference of that concept with pseudonymization, and why Bill C-11 totally fails by mixing up these two concepts under the umbrella of “de-identified” data. Guess what, under Bill C-11, “de-identified” data, whatever that is, can be used indiscriminately by business and can be shared with a third party, provided it is shared with a government-related institution for a “socially beneficial purpose”. What is a socially beneficial purpose? It’s what the government defines it as. Nice.
What’s being done with all of this data that everyone seems to want? It’s going into artificial intelligence (AI). Algorithms will be used on this massive amount of data, so that AI, not humans, can make decisions that affect you as a consumer, like, will you get an insurance policy and how much will your policy cost (if it lets you get one)? Under Bill C-11, a business will tell you if they are making decisions about you based on AI, but only if you ask. What if you object and want a human decision? Too bad. There’s no constitutional right to privacy in Canada, unlike in Europe. Is it time to change that?
So, we stand on the precipice of losing consumer privacy rights in Canada. Do you care? If so, please listen and join us in taking on the fight to defeat Bill C-11. Shame on them.
Lastly, for “told you so”, we discuss the dismissal of the Internet wholesale rate application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Now the CRTC has to reconsider the rates. Wait for it. Again.
Direct link: https://wefightforthat.simplecast.com/episodes/the-epic-battle-for-your-privacy-with-yuka-sai

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