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Public Interest News: Supreme Court decision today / Curb those extra fees / Basic telecom / La manière forte / Industry cell calculator / More TV fees / Trade deals: No texts

$650 million overcharge: Supreme Court decision expected today

(PIAC 18/09/09) Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, will be available to comment on the “Deferral Accounts” decision expected to be handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada today. Janigan, acting for Canada Without Poverty (formerly the National Anti-Poverty Organization) and the Consumers Association of Canada represented the claim of about 10 million consumers to the money overcharged.

“In 2002, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission required larger telecommunications firms such as Bell to charge its customers more so smaller firms could enter the telephone market. That money was put in a deferral account. The CRTC decided in 2006 that $650 million in the account should be used to improve high-speed Internet service for rural communities,” the Sault Star reported on Sept. 5.

“Appeals have tied up the cash since then. The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to announce its decision as to how the money can be spent later this month. Critics say the money should be returned to telephone customers who faced higher bills earlier this decade,” the Star reported.

Curb those extra fees: PIAC report calls for consumer protection legislation

(PIAC 18/09/09) “The Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre is calling for the elimination of the slate of extra charges that are levied by a variety of industries, including financial services firms. “These charges usually represent expenses that are really just part of the cost of doing business,” notes Michael Janigan, executive director of the PIAC, and author of the report. ‘There’s no reason to have them presented like they are mandatory costs passed through to customers separately,’” Investment Executive reported on Sept. 16

“The report argues that these practices harm consumers by misrepresenting actual costs, preventing comparison shopping, harming competition and impeding efficiency, and it calls on policymakers to put an end to the practice. “From a consumer standpoint, the most preferable course of action would be an outright ban on the practice,” it says. “At a minimum, consumer protection legislation should be introduced requiring any advertising or representation to include an ‘all-in’ price that is prominently featured,” Investment Executive’s James Langton reported.

The report, “The Practice of Extra Charges In the Canadian Marketplace”, is available at piac.ca.

CRTC review of basic telecom services: Add high-speed PIAC to argue

(PIAC 18/09/09) “The CRTC is reviewing its oversight of basic telecommunications services and is calling on the public to suggest what it should require of providers. … The CRTC currently requires companies such as Bell, Telus, MTS and SaskTel to provide basic phone service to all Canadians. Part of phone providers’ annual revenues go to a fund that subsidizes the cost of providing service to remote and rural communities. The CRTC’s review will look at whether it should continue to enforce those two requirements, and whether it should be expanded to include other companies, such as firms that wholesale services from the likes of Bell and Telus,” CBC News reported on Sept. 11.

“Aside from the potential dropping or expansion of existing requirements, the review could also see new services added to the list of basic obligations. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a consumer watchdog, says it plans to argue that high-speed internet should be considered a basic service,” CBC’s Peter Nowak reported.

The CRTC will decide what issues will be on table for further discussion by the middle of March.

Bell Canada: Option consommateurs dénonce la manière forte

(PIAC 18/09/09) « Le géant de la téléphonie Bell Canada soulève une fois de plus l’ire des groupes de défense des consommateurs en forçant la main depuis quelques mois de ses clients pour qu’ils souscrivent, à fort prix, à une garantie prolongée lors de l’achat d’un cellulaire. Une pratique commerciale contestable, face à laquelle les adeptes du sans-fil devraient s’insurger, estime Option consommateurs, » Le Devoir a rapporté le 11 septembre.

« Nous sommes devant un cas flagrant de vente sous pression d’une garantie dont le consommateur n’a pas forcément besoin, puisqu’il est déjà protégé par les garanties légales prévues au Code civil», a résumé hier l’avocate Stéphanie Poulin, du regroupement consumériste. «Bien sûr, rien n’interdit à Bell d’agir de la sorte, mais ce n’est pas une raison pour l’accepter et surtout ne pas faire part de son mécontentement sur la façon dont Bell Canada traite ses clients. »

« Pour Option Consommateur, cette vente sous pression d’une garantie est «ironique» alors que Québec se prépare à réformer sa Loi sur la protection du consommateur (LPC) dans les prochaines semaines. La refonte, inscrite dans le projet de loi 60, vise entre autres à mettre un peu d’ordre dans la vente de ce type de garanties prolongées, vente souvent problématique, » Fabien Deglise a rapporté.

CRTC doesn’t have the power to regulate the way most people want

(PIAC 18/09/09) “Why is THE CRTC so powerless to effectively regulate Now Magazine asked in its Sept. 10 edition. “A part of the problem lies in the outdated documents the CRTC consults. The two documents, The Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, are both over a decade and a half old, with the former being conceived in 1968, long before the internet existed… As crucial as internet services are, our ruling documents contain nothing about the rights of the consumer or reasonable rates.”

“’The Broadcasting Act reflects effectively the policy concern at the time and that is whether or not they would carry enough Canadian content,’ says Michael Janigan. ‘Nobody ever imagined the idea that it would become an important service or a platform for the launch of other services like the internet’,” Now’s Matthew Kim wrote.

“CRTC doesn’t have the power to regulate in the way most people want them to regulate,” says Janigan.

Industry kills cellphone price calculator

(PIAC 18/09/09) “PIAC lawyer John Lawford tested a prototype of the tool and found that discount brands like Fido, Solo and Koodo, as well as resellers like Virgin Mobile and President’s Choice always came out on top when sorted by price,” the Montreal Gazette reported on Sept. 3.

“’The big flagship brands never came up, unless you said you’re a heavy user,’ Lawford said, suggesting this was a motivation for the carriers to oppose the calculator.

“Canada has one of the lowest wireless penetration in the developed world, which has been blamed on low competition and high prices. PIAC argues the tool would have encouraged more Canadians to buy cellphones, a claim rejected by (Industry Minster) Clement’s office and the CWTA (wireless industry lobby group),” the Gazette’s Roberto Rocha reported.

TV networks more commercials: Cable, satellite customers fees upped

(PIAC 18/09/09) “Conventional television broadcasters are free as of Tuesday to air as many advertisements as they wish, up from a maximum of 15 minutes per hour under the old system that died on Aug. 31. And beginning on their September bills, cable customers will start to see a new line on their monthly invoice amounting to a 1.5 per cent increase. The additional cash will go into the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF),” Canwest News Service reported on Sept. 1.

“Michael Janigan, executive director of the consumer rights group Public Interest Advocacy Centre, says the current predicament of ever-escalating bills speaks to the failure of the CRTC. “The problem is they’re doing it in the context of circumstances where you’ve got a broadcasting industry that is not truly competitive. The commission will do pretty much everything except to effectively regulate the cable and satellite (industries). That’s the nub of the problem,” Canwest’s Sarah Schmidt reported.

Wireless code of conduct: Very little substance

(PIAC 18/09/09) “Canadian cellphone companies are giving customers the ability to refuse mid-term changes to their contracts under a new wireless code of conduct. The code, introduced by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association on Tuesday (Sept. 1), promises to let customers cancel their contracts without early termination fees if the carrier makes material changes to terms — or customers can refuse the changes outright,” CBC News reported on Sept. 1

“Consumer advocates don’t think much of the new code. “I think the privacy guarantee isn’t anything. Just saying they have privacy policies is no help whatever,” said John Lawford, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. There is “very little substance here…. At this juncture it’s too general and vague to really be of use,” CBC News’ Peter Nowak reported.

The code was announced a day after it was revealed that the CWTA, the wireless industry’s lobby group, had helped persuade the federal government to scrap a taxpayer-funded online cellphone rate calculator.

Interprovincial trade deals: Where are the texts of the agreements?

(PIAC 18/09/09) “Janet Lo, counsel at PIAC and author of “The Consumer Perspective of Trade & Commerce Powers,” says the goal of removing interprovincial trade barriers should be greater competition and reduced prices. However, she questions whether consumers are being left out of a process that seems to be completed by the time the politicians in the jurisdiction involved announce the deals,” Canadian Lawyer reported on Aug. 31.

“’TILMA [Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement] was introduced and the last year we’ve heard about the agreement of enhancing the Ontario and Quebec economic region, we’ve heard about the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick pair, and we’ve heard about the Western Economic Partnership,” says Lo. “But these are all sort of announced by the premiers and draft agreements are yet to come up and after they are announced we are sort of left wondering what is this about? What exactly is this going to accomplish? What is the text?’”

“The report favours the engagement of interest groups from the consumer side to go along with those on the corporate side. Lo says the engagement needs to be through all processes of the trade agreement, including dispute mechanisms. The report favours increased oversight at the federal government level to protect standards including consumer safety,” Canadian Lawyer’s Kelly Harris reported.

Industry codes of conduct: Little value

(PIAC 18/09/09) “Canada’s mobile phone companies will be required to make sure consumers understand their contracts when they buy a cellphone under a new code of conduct. The code of conduct also says cellphone companies are to “communicate with their customers in a way they understand,” the Canadian Press reported on Sept. 1.

Quebec consumer group Option Consommateurs said the industry shouldn’t be coming up with its own code of conduct. “We’ve been wrestling with a code of conduct for the banks, for credit cards, nowhere have we seen it work because the codes of conduct are devised by the supplier,” spokeswoman Anu Bose said from the organization’s Ottawa office.

Bose said consumers “already have to go through the maze that is the complaints procedure” and then have to spend more time taking the complaint to another level,” CP’s Luann Lasalle reported.

Stop fraudsters with limit on telephone special services charges

(PIAC 18/09/09) “The CRTC is being asked to halt the growing problem of tele-hackers who set up fake 1-900 numbers in order to rack up large telephone bills from unsuspecting individuals and businesses. … The CRTC looked into the issue four years ago without creating new regulations, but a consumer advocacy group believes the time has come to take a second look,” the Canadian Press reported on Aug. 20.

“The bottom line is that the telephone companies are best able to control activity on their networks and protect all of us,” said Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. A CRTC spokesman said the commission would look into the matter once it has reviewed the request,” CP reported.

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