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Wireless Code Hearing PIAC Summary – Day Three (February 13, 2013)

Day Three of the CRTC Wireless Code hearing began with a presentation by Media Access Canada (MAC), representing the Access 2020 Group of Accessibility Stakeholders. The presenters reiterated the need for special accommodation for individuals with disabilities. Common issues they encountered were: a dearth and lack of transparency of information, a failure to accommodate special needs, and an inability of the market to develop diverse options for customers with disabilities. They called for a specific provision in the Code that would address accessibility needs, as well as the creation of an Office of Disability Issues, which could exclusively assist wireless consumers with disabilities.

MAC was followed by the DiversityCanada Foundation, which advocated for the application of the Code to prepaid service customers. The item the presenters focused on was the prohibition of any expiry date on minutes purchased on prepaid cards. The Foundation emphasized that wireless providers have failed to be transparent whenever they have confiscated a customer’s balance.

Eastlink began its presentation by announcing plans to launch a wireless service business on Friday, February 15. The presenters were unable to disclose details on their planned offerings, but commented on the CRTC’s Working Document . The carrier supported certain aspects of the Code, such as the Personalized Information Summary and the all-inclusive advertising provisions, but opposed rules it found to be too prescriptive, including the notifications and caps on additional fees. Eastlink also emphasized that wireless providers ought to be given the flexibility to treat device subsidies in different ways, and that the most important aspect of the Code was the requirement to provide full disclosure to consumers.

Mobilicity’s presentation gave the Commissioners the opportunity to ask the carrier questions about its prepaid business model, which Mobilicity emphasized was founded on preventing bill shock. The wireless provider generally opposed the application of the Code to prepaid services, but agreed with certain provisions in the Working Document, such as unlocking and the coexistence of the Code with provincial legislation.

The Consumers Council of Canada (CCC) encouraged contractual clarity and notifications of roaming fees. However, CCC opposed the use of the misleading term, “subsidy”, to describe the cheaper handsets provided to consumers in exchange for a fixed-term contract. CCC also questioned the effectiveness of enforcement by the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, as the ombudsman is only permitted to impose a “penalty” of up to $5,000. Ultimately, the CCC agreed it would be ideal to separate the purchase of handsets from the provision of wireless services.

Finally, Bell Canada – also representing KMTS, NorternTel, and Télébec – appeared before the Commission. The carrier touched on a range of issues, arguing that the national Code should supersede all provincial rules related to wireless services, that notification of additional charges should focus only on data usage, with no caps, and that the Code should only apply to new contracts created on or after the Code comes into effect. Questioning by the Commissioners will continue on Thursday morning.

Today, the Commissioners continued to press on hot topics, such as bill shock, unlocking, and three-year contracts, but also explored other issues, including whether the CCTS could provide effective remedies that would encourage wireless providers to comply with the Code.

The hearing is set to reconvene at 9:00 am on Thursday, February 14.

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