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Presentation to the Standing Committee on Industry on Bill C-17

PRESENTATION TO THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON INDUSTRY ON BILL C-17: AN ACT TO AMEND THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS ACT AND THE TELEGLOBE CANADA REORGANIZATION AND DIVESTITURE ACT

BY
THE CONSUMERS’ ASSOCIATION OF CANADA,
LA FÉDÉRATION NATIONALE DES ASSOCIATIONS DE CONSOMMATEURS DU QUÉBEC, AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST ADVOCACY CENTRE

December 4, 1997

Madame la présidente, membres du comité, nous vous remercions de nous donner l’occasion aujourd’hui de nous présenter devant vous et d’exprimer notre point de vue sur les amendements proposés proposées à la Loi sur les télécommunications.

Je suis Marie Vallée, analyste et porte-parole en matière de télécommunications de la Fédération nationale des associations de consommateurs du Québec et avec moi, Me. Philippa Lawson du Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

Nous représentons aujourd’hui:

  • l’Association des consommateurs du Canada, une organisation nationale san but lucratif qui représente les consommateurs résidentiels à travers leCanada;
  • la Fédération nationale des associations de consommateurs du Québec, qui représente plusieurs groupes de consommateurs résidentiels du Québec; et
  • le Public Interest Advocacy Centre, un organisme national sans but lucratif qui défend depuis près de vingt ans les intérêts des abonnés résidentiels du téléphone devant le CRTC et également dans d’autres forums.Nous sommes ici premièrement pour apporter notre support aux amendements proposés et en particulier aux amendements qui donneront au CRTC (Conseil de la radiodiffusion et des télécommunications canadiennes) et au Cabinet des pouvoirs plus larges pour atteindre les objectifs de la politique canadienne de télécommunications – objectifs comme une qualité élevée, un service fiable à des tarifs abordables – et de le faire dans un environnement de plus en plus concurrentiel. Nos commentaires portent sur certains articles seulement.

    Je passe maintenant la parole à Me. Lawson.

    PART IV.1 – s.69.1-s.69.5 Telecommunications Apparatus/Technical Standards

    We support the new provisions which would give the government control over quality, safety and technical standards in respect of telecommunications equipment sold in Canada. In an increasingly global market, such standards will be essential if we are to maintain the quality of service that we have achieved under the regulated monopoly system.

    s.46.1 – s.46.6 Telecommunications Numbering and Other Activities

    We support provisions extending the Commission’s powers to include regulatory oversight of third party administration of such matters as numbering (which is also a new power being handed over to the Commission), and the operation of a fund to support continuing access by Canadians to basic telecommunications services.

    The establishment and operation of a fund to support access to basic telecommunications services in the competitive environment is essential, if we are to respect the policy goals set out in section 7 of the Act. It is truly ironic that one of the first and most tangible effects of competition in this industry has been higher rates for basic residential telephone service. We commend the Commission on its recognition of the need for a fund through which to ensure that Canadians living in high cost areas face affordable prices for basic service, and on its recognition that a fund may be needed in the future to ensure that low income Canadians can continue to afford basic service. The Commission must have regulatory authority over whatever body is established to operate this fund – or these funds – and hence we fully support the inclusion of section 46.6.

    At this point in time, it is possible to identify numbering resources and high cost area funding as matters which may best be handled by a third party, over which the Commission should have regulatory oversight, in order that our policy goals are achieved in the most efficient and effective manner. However, other matters for which the exercise and/or delegation of Commission powers is appropriate, may well arise in the future.

    For example, it is clearly in the public interest to have a single, comprehensive directory assistance database for use by all service providers and customers. Such a database may be most efficiently and fairly administered by a neutral third party. As with numbering and portable subsidies, this is not explicitly provided for in the current legislation.

    Similarly, the provision of 911 emergency services in a competitive environment may be best handled through an independent body, subject to Commission oversight. But the existing statute does not provide for such an approach, even if it would be the most efficient.

    Another example is that of dispute arbitration between competing carriers. As competition increases, so will disputes between carriers. Industry groups are currently considering different approaches to dispute arbitration, one of which is for the Commission to mandate the use of a private arbitrator in the case of customer transfer disputes, for example. In such a case, the Commission may wish to delegate its powers of dispute arbitration.

    These are just a few examples that we can think of now, of valuable activities which may not be permitted under the existing legislation. Who knows what will arise in the future? Given the fast pace of this industry, we can assume that new matters involving the provision of telecommunications services, and for which the Commission’s existing powers are inadequate, will arise and demand action.

    If there is no provision allowing for the administration of such new activities by the Commission or for the delegation of Commission powers other than numbering and fund administration, then we may be limited to a less efficient, less orderly and less competitive telecommunications environment.

    For this reason, we support the proposed s.46.1(b). In addition, we think that the delegation power set out in the proposed s.46.2 needs to be broadened, to cover all existing Commission powers, not just those arising out of numbering or new activities under s.46.1(b).

    s.16.1 – s.16.4 Telecommunications Service Providers’ Licences

    The other area in which we wish to express our particular support is that of reseller licensing.

    We strongly support using this opportunity to provide the Commission with the power to regulate resellers, whether through licensing or otherwise. From the consumer perspective, there is absolutely no justification for distinguishing between different types of telecommunications service providers, when it comes to basic consumer safeguards.

    Under the existing legislation, the Commission considers that it does not have the jurisdiction to regulate resellers directly. So, while facilities-based service providers are required to respect rules protecting customer privacy, to provide certain important information to consumers prior to contracting for service, and to follow certain procedures when signing up customers so as to avoid transferring customers against their will, non-facilities-based service providers are free to ignore such requirements.

    This gaping disparity in consumer protections as between resellers and facilities-based carriers makes no sense. Consumers don’t generally know, let alone care, whether the company they are dealing with owns its facilities. Both companies are engaging in the same exercise, which involves the same risks to customer privacy, the same potential for insufficient or misleading information, and the same potential for error when it comes to transferring a customer’s line. Where the same potential problems exist, the same consumer protection regimes should apply. There is no reason why resellers should not be subject to the same consumer protections as are other service providers operating in Canada.

    It is therefore essential, in our view, that the Commission be provided with the tools to apply consumer safeguards to resellers.

    The proposed licensing power, drafted so as to cover both domestic and international resellers, as well as facilities-based carriers, provides such an opportunity, and therefore has our support. We do not believe that this section should be narrowed to cover only those providers of international services. That would leave the Commission in the strange position of being able to regulate facilities-based carriers and resellers of international service, but not resellers of domestic service.

    Nor do we think that the licensing provision should be narrowed to cover resellers only. The Commission should have as much flexibility as possible in determining the most efficient and effective way of regulating facilities-based carriers, where necessary.

    Should, however, the licensing power be redrafted so as to cover international service providers only, we submit that the existing section 24 should be broadened to cover resellers as well as facilities-based carriers. In this way, the Commission would be able to impose consumer safeguards directly on resellers. The domestic reseller gap would be covered.

    What is essential, from the consumer perspective, is that the Commission has the power to impose conditions directly on resellers, as well as facilities-based carriers, that it has the ability to enforce those conditions, whether through licence revocation, court orders, prosecution or other means.

    Définition de «services de télécommunications de base»

    En dernier lieu, nous ne pouvions pas nous empêcher de remarquer une omission plutôt béante, à savoir le manquement à définir un nouveau terme «services de télécommunications de base» .(Soit dit en passant le texte français a «oublié » le de base.) Nous croyons que la raison de cette comission est que ce concept est en constante évolution et ne doit donc pas être coulé dans le bronze. Nous sommes en accord avec le fait que le Conseil doit avoir la liberté de définir le concept comme il le juge approprié à un moment donné dans le temps. Mais nous croyons pertinent de spécifier cela dans la partie des définitions du texte de la loi. Pourquoi ne pas être plus explicite sur la notion d’un concept en évolution continue et sur le rôle du Conseil pour en assurer la définition? On pourrait pas exemple déclaré dans la Loi que:

    «Les services de télécommunications de base doivent être définis par le Conseil périodiquement, sur demande d’une partie intéressée ou à son initiative et devraient inclure les services nécessaires pour qu’une personne puisse participer pleinement à la société canadienne. »

    De cette manière , vous faites en sorte que le concept soit clairement ancré dans un principe de base d’accès, que les composantes du service de base seront modifiées de temps en temps et que le Conseil à le devoir d’assurer que la définition du service de base demeure actuelle.

    Nous vous remercions encore de votre attention et de nous avoir entendues.

    Nous serons heureuses de répondre à vos questions.

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