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Stronger Regulatory Regime needed to address Consumer Issues regarding Retail Internet Access Services

New PIAC Report: Unraveling Webs of Uncertainty: What an Internet Code could mean for Canadian Consumers

OTTAWA –Canadians continue to face several issues with their home Internet access services and recent regulatory efforts to address them still fall short, a new Report released today by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) outlines. Prominent consumer internet service issues include billing; home Internet speed, often claimed to be either slow, or subject to throttling and poor quality of service (often a mismatch between the advertised Internet speed and what is actually delivered); lack of contract clarity; and challenges in installing and cancelling Internet access services.

The Report also reviewed how a potential “Internet Code” could be effective in addressing several of the above consumer issues regarding retail Internet access. While the Report was being drafted, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) released its “Internet Code” decision. The Report analyzes the CRTC’s Internet Code and finds that it does not adequately address several consumer issues, including speed claims and in one case, installation fees, actually permits additional unwarranted charges to be added to bills by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

“The CRTC missed a golden opportunity to fix Internet service by rushing out the Internet Code with minimal safeguards for consumers,” said John Lawford, Executive Director and General Counsel at PIAC.

PIAC’s Report reviewed international practices and policies that revealed several consumer protection regulations that could have been useful and applied in Canada; in particular, those addressing broadband speed claims and billing issues. “These international protections should be considered in detail to better understand their relevance for Canada’s specific framework,” noted Tahira Dawood, Policy and Research Analyst at PIAC.

The Report’s recommendations are divided in two stages for ease of implementation. For the first stage, it suggests:

  • The Commission should consider including issues regarding broadband speed and misleading advertising in a potential Internet Code.
  • Under the quality of service aspects of the new broadband speed regulatory regime, all ISPs should be required to provide a minimum guaranteed baseline download and upload speed, and consumers should have a right to exit a contract without penalty, if these baseline speeds are not consistently achievable at the promised level, within 30 days.
  • Additionally, the Competition Bureau and the CRTC should work together on an inquiry on broadband speed and quality advertising.
  • The CRTC should, within the next two years, launch a public proceeding to review the level and nature of competition in the retail Internet access services market to parallel the ongoing “Wireless Review”.
  • The Commission should take action to implement the suggestions it made to improve consumer protection in its Report on Misleading or Aggressive Communications Retail Sales Practices and to prioritize those applicable to retail Internet access services, including suitability standards for the sale of residential retail Internet access services.

For the second stage:

  • The Commission should consider, in the long-term, having a single, mandatory and universal telecommunications code that applies to all telecommunications services and all broadcasting distribution services, rather than a patchwork of consumer protection.
  • The CRTC should launch a public proceeding to frame this Code within 3 years, with a view to having the Telecommunications Code in place within 5 years.

The Report’s drafting was mostly completed by July 2019 with the addendum to the report written after the CRTC’s decision on the Internet Code came out.

To view the full report in English, click here.

To access the condensed report in English, click here and to view the report in French, click here.

To view the addendum to the report in English, click here.

To view the addendum to the report in French, click here.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has received funding from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations. The views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada or of the Government of Canada.

For more information please contact:

John Lawford
Executive Director and General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
Tel: 613-562-4002 x 25
jlawford@piac.ca

 

Tahira Dawood
Policy and Research Analyst
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)

Tel: 613-562-4002 x 23

tdawood@piac.ca

 

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