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Public Interest News: Shaw’s Canwest / High-speed internet for everyone / Net wars / Net consent / Internet regulation / Aeroplan / Rogers Netflix

Shaw Canwest purchase: A negative outcome for broadcasting diversity

(PIAC 24/August/2010) Telus Corp. is warning that Shaw’s $2-billion purchase of Canwest’s broadcasting assets could lead to an abuse of market power, and is asking regulators to maintain a vigilant eye on what the cable firm does with its newfound content properties. … There is also growing anxiety that the deal furthers the concentration of programming power in the hands of distributors like Shaw,” Jamie Sturgeon reported for the Financial Post on Aug. 23. “That is a negative outcome for broadcasting diversity, said Michael Janigan, … “We’re getting empires that not only own content but are in charge of the pipes that deliver it,” the Financial Post reported.

PIAC calls access to high-speed internet a basic service

(PIAC 24/August/2010) “A report by the PIAC recommends that high-speed Internet be declared a basic service, much like telephone access was mandated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission over 10 years ago. … “The Internet, and in particular broadband services, are important both in terms of the economy of Canada and the individual lives of Canadians,” said Michael Janigan, executive director and general counsel of the PIAC,” the Canadian Press reported on Aug. 18.

“(Janigan said,) “It was discovered that in order to be a full participative member of society access to a telephone service was required and we are certainly approaching that – if not at the circumstance – where broadband itself is something that is required in order to fully participate (in society),” Michael Oliveira reported for The Canadian Press.

New credit and debit card code Sept. 1: Comments from PIAC, Options consommateurs

(PIAC 24/August/2010) “(On Sept. 1) credit card issuers will be required to clearly state the exact time and cost of making only the minimum payment. … Consumers will get a 21-day grace period to pay off any new charges, even if they haven’t paid off all the previous month’s bill. … Banks and other credit card issuers must give consumers advance warning of any changes in interest rates,” Dana Flavelle reported for the Toronto Star on Aug. 17.

“Ottawa should have required the banks to raise their minimum monthly payments so that consumers “won’t be in debt forever,” said Genevieve Reed, head of research for the Quebec-based consumer group Options Consommateurs. … “I don’t think a lot of people read their bills that closely. It may become like warnings on cigarette packages,” said John Lawford, a research analyst with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre,” the Toronto Star reported.

« Ottawa a mandaté l’Agence de la consommation en matière financière du Canada (ACFC) pour veiller au respect du code. Ce gain de dernière minute satisfait Option Consommateurs, qui avait présenté la demande au fédéral. “Vu la nature volontaire du code, on se posait beaucoup de questions… Heureusement, on a été entendus”, a dit Geneviève Reid, responsable du service de recherche et de représentation d’Option Consommateurs, » Stéphanie Grammond a écrit pour La Presse le 17 août.

The internet: A collision values

(PIAC 24/August/2010) “Google and Verizon have released a joint proposal arguing that broadband providers should be permitted to charge different prices for “differentiated online services” – a move critics say sets the stage for tiered Internet pricing. … In the network neutrality debate, there are two opposite ideologies at play, according to Michael Janigan,” Omar El Akkad and Iain Marlow reported for the Globe and Mail on Aug. 9.

The Globe reported Janigan said: “The first is the assumption that the Internet, because of its crucial place in many people’s lives, has intrinsic commercial value that can and should be exploited in the free market. The second is that the Internet is a public commons where “access and affordability” are critical to ensure that the Internet itself remains free. What is required, I think, is a firm set of rules that enable the users of the Internet to be protected against conflicts of interest that arise as a result of the commercial interests of the carriers and some of the content that they carry. In the absence of rules, there’s a collision of these values that is likely to continue to occur as the Internet evolves.”

On the Web, consent is a tricky idea

(PIAC 24/August/2010) “On the Web, consent is a tricky idea. Companies have to say how they collect and use data, but lengthy privacy policies require users with the patience to parse out exactly how that information is being shared – sometimes with partners who have entirely different privacy policies, says John Lawford, …. How many people actually read sites’ privacy policies before clicking “I agree”?, Susan Krashinsky and Omar El Akkad reported for the Globe and Mail on Aug. 13.

“If you are at a retail website, it’s going to be a member of a number of affiliate-advertising networks: Doubleclick, probably Microsoft One, and one or two others. It’s going to place at least one cookie, and then report back to [its] affiliate networks what you did,” Mr. Lawford says. “There’s effectively a perfect, almost biographical sketch of you somewhere in these affiliate computers, but it’s not identified by your actual name,” the Globe and Mail reported.

Rogers lowers download limits as Netflix looms

(PIAC 24/August/2010) Rogers Communications, this country’s second-biggest internet provider, is lowering the usage limits on some of its plans, just days after online video service Netflix announced it was expanding into Canada. … John Lawford, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre consumer watchdog, said the move is both a cash grab by Rogers on its internet customers, and a defensive measure to protect its video services. The company is Canada’s biggest cable television provider and it operates a video streaming service similar to Netflix called On Demand Online,” Peter Nowak reported for CBC News reported on July 22.

“It’s easier to make money from overage charges because those aren’t really advertised rates. You’re going to make more money from those overages, eventually, than your regular monthly rates,” Lawford said. “It also kind of wrecks [Netflix’s] business model if the cost to the end user goes up after they’ve subscribed and then they cancel it a month later because they can’t afford it,” CBC News reported.

Added fees for goods, services are out of control

(PIAC 24/August/2010) “Fees are getting out of control. I’m tired of seeing large companies advertise one price to lure you in and then jack it up with a multitude of extra costs. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a non-profit consumer group, has studied the practice of extra charges in the Canadian marketplace and found several negative consequences,” theToronto Star’s Ellen Roseman wrote for CBC News on July 21.

“One, it prevents consumers from doing meaningful comparison shopping among suppliers. Two, it discourages efficiency and productivity when suppliers pass on higher input costs so easily. Three, a company engaging in the practice has an unfair competitive edge, encouraging others to follow so they can offer a lower matching price.Four, consumers may not learn about the extra fees and charges until they sign a deal or get their first bill. This takes away from informed consent.So, what is to be done? The best solution is an outright ban on the practice, the public interest group said. Another option is to insist that companies advertise and show the “all-in price,” CBC News reported.

Credit ruined over unknown Telus bill

(PIAC 24/August/2010) “A couple from Courtenay, B.C., is upset with Telus for putting a black mark on their credit rating for an old bill they said they didn’t know about. … The Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa said it has heard similar complaints from consumers who say they didn’t know about an outstanding phone bill until it affected their credit rating. “Despite the inability to get anyone in this infernal [telecommunications industry] machine to take responsibility, many more sophisticated lenders know that [phone companies] do this all the time and will lend you money anyway,” said the advocacy centre’s John Lawford. “No guarantee of this, though. And your credit score and report are still awful for years,” theKelowna Daily Courier reported on July 13.

“Lawford said sometimes unpaid phone bills are for charges customers have disputed. He said consumers have no recourse except to appeal to the creditor’s goodwill.“No protection whatsoever. No recourse. No accountability whatsoever,” said Lawford. “The repercussions are those experienced here [by the Krishers]. Part of the problem relates to federal-provincial jurisdictional problems,” the Daily Courier reported.

CRTC extends traffic management policy to wireless providers

(PIAC 24/August/2010) “The CRTC’s decision last week to implement traffic management policies for wireless carriers could be a step toward a broader regulatory framework for mobile services, John Lawford, counsel with the consumer advocacy group the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), told The Wire Report Monday. “Are we going to start regulating wireless? Are we going to start regulating the Internet, and how? At a certain point, I think, ‘Yeah, we are,’” Lawford said. He suggested subsidy mechanisms for local services, price controls, or European-style caps or regulations on roaming charges as potential areas for review,” Simon Doyle wrote for Wire Report on July 5.

Copyright debate turns ugly

(PIAC 24/August/2010) “The only people who are opposed to this legislation are really two groups of radical extremists,” (Heritage Minister James) Moore said …. “There are those that pretend to be for copyright reform, but they don’t believe in actual copyright reform. There are those that are cited as experts by the media endlessly who are not in favour of copyright reform,” Peter Nowak reported for CBC News on June 23.

Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), an Ottawa-based consumer watchdog that opposes the bill mainly because of the digital locks clause, was also disheartened by Moore’s comments … he said. “I’m very surprised at efforts to demonize opponents at a fairly early stage in discussion about the bill. I don’t think that’s helpful at all.” PIAC, along with several other consumer groups, wrote to the minister last week to express their dissatisfaction with his recent assertion that consumers support Bill C-32. Moore has not yet replied to the letter, Janigan said.

Unfair change in the Air Canada Aeroplan rules, Michael Janigan says

(PIAC 24/August/2010) From September 15, passengers buying a one-way Tango ticket from, for example, Toronto to Winnipeg, will earn 233 Aeroplan miles, rather than the 466 that would now be accrued,” cheapflights.com reported on June 8,. “The decision has been labeled unfair by consumer groups. Michael Janigan, Executive Director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, commented: “When you come aboard and decide to give your business to airlines and collect reward points, there should be some assurance that they’re not going to change the rules midstream. There should be some basic package of expectations that should be part of any airline ticket,” cheapflights.com reported.

Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act: Janet Lo comments

(PIAC 24/August/2010) “Companies get to decide whether to tell their customers they’ve lost their personal information or hackers have stolen it, according to legislation tabled Tuesday by the Conservative government. The proposed amendments to Canada’s private sector privacy law will require banks, retailers and other companies to inform Canada’s privacy watchdog if they’ve experienced a “material” data breach of personal information. Factors for determining if the mandatory reporting rule kicks in include the sensitivity of the information, the number of customers affected and an assessment by the company that concludes the cause of the breach indicates a systemic problem,” Canwest News Service reported on May 25.

“Janet Lo, counsel with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said the language around risk and significant harm is troubling. … “Ultimately, what we’re looking for is something that’s objective, reasonable and measurable so it’s not just up to interpretation for a business that collects all this information and has some kind of interest in keeping breaches quiet,” Sarah Schmidt reported for Canwest News Service.

Cut Rogers and Bell out of the next spectrum auction: Michael Janigan says keep spectrum open for new or smaller carriers

(PIAC 24/August/2010) “In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission auctions off wireless spectrum in much the same way (as Industry Canada) in a process that is usually dominated by the major players. … The biggest players with the deepest pockets pay the most money to ensure that they own the most spectrum — and competitors don’t. But in a move that must surely be unsettling to Rogers, BCE and Telus, the FCC may block the two (biggest) U.S. Firms (AT&T and Verizon Wireless) from its next auction, expected in 2011. In a report released Thursday, the FCC said concentration in the U.S. market had increased substantially since 2003, while the two leading wireless companies continued to gain share through that time. The commission also suggested the industry was no longer “effectively competitive,” the Financial Post reported on May 21.

“Many would argue that Canada’s market is less competitive, and Industry Canada could follow the FCC’s example by blocking or once again limiting incumbent participation in the next auction. AT&T and Verizon control 60% of the American market. In Canada, the big three control 96% (Rogers holds 37% followed by Bell at 30% and Telus at 29%). Micheal Janigan, executive director for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa said the organization supported keeping spectrum in Canada open for new or smaller carriers. “We would like to see several players that would be able to achieve a certain size,” he said,” Jamie Sturgeon reported for the Financial Post.

Aug. 31, 2011: PIAC calls for digital broadcasting transition program

(PIAC 24/August/2010) “In large part, the potential problems associated with the transition have not been a policy priority of the federal government. In the result, there is some likelihood of confusion and outcry when the transition occurs unless steps are taken quickly to prepare for the same,” PIAC’s submission says. PIAC suggests Canada should follow the experience of the United States, where television stations stopped broadcasting analog signals on June 11, 2009, and where “the transition was considered largely successful” a May 7 news story from Wire Report said.

“The American transition was aided by programs for public education and consumer awareness; financial subsidies to consumers in the form of coupons; mandatory broadcast of analog for local broadcasting and border areas beyond the June 2009 cut off deadline; and a trial transition in Wilmington, NC, in September 2008. It is estimated that about 900,000 Canadian households use antennas to receive over-the-air analog signals and do not yet have the equipment to receive digital signals,” Wire Report said.

No phone books no rate reductions: CRTC approves Yellow Pages Group (YPG) “on-demand” approach to the white pages

(PIAC 24/August/2010) OTTAWA “The CRTC decision means most people won’t have a current phone book. It’s a step towards no white pages at all. It’s a service reduction and rates should fall,” Public Interest Advocacy Centre counsel John Lawford said. Residential telephone customers of Bell Canada and Telus in Montréal, Québec City, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver are affected by the decision.

Bell Canada Touch-Tone Overcharge Reversed

(PIAC 24/August/2010) The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) welcomed the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) decision on May 19 to reverse “Touch-Tone” charges imposed unilaterally by Bell Canada (Bell) on certain of its local telephone customers.

PIAC is concerned that customers may not notice the refund letter or may not claim it. “The problem is that the CRTC said that these customers have to call Bell back to get their credit when Bell made the mistake. The CRTC should tell Bell to refund customers with no work on their part,” John said Lawford. “Now large telephone companies get the message of ‘charge first, figure out the mistakes later.” The Consumers’ Association of Canada and Canada Without Poverty – Touch-Tone charges for rotary dial customers, Telecom Decision CRTC 2010-292, is on the CRTC website.

Cadre international pour l’étiquetage des OGM : Option consommateurs

PIAC 24/August/2010) « Tous unis pour la transparence. Une vaste coalition d’organismes qui défendent les droits des consommateurs a demandé hier à Ottawa de ne pas faire déraper les négociations en cours afin de définir un cadre international pour l’étiquetage des organismes génétiquement modifiés (OGM). Les échanges sur cette question doivent reprendre la semaine prochaine à Québec à l’occasion de la réunion du Comité du Codex alimentarius, un organisme lié à l’ONU qui établit les normes et codes d’usage en matière d’agroalimentation » Le Devoir a rapporté le 1 mai.

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