Consumers Likely To Pay Price of Proposed Telecommunications Reform

In April of this year, in response to the lobbying of Canada’s large telephone companies, the federal government created a panel of three industry experts to review the way telephone service and telecommunications should be regulated. The Telecommunications Policy Review Panel (TPRP) has received submissions from numerous interested parties and is now deliberating. To no one’s surprise, big industry players have dominated this process, filing in one case alone over 1300 pages of submissions. Most of the telephone, cable and other large companies would like to have a market virtually free from regulation that provides consumer protection: a market where what you get depends on what is offered to you by the telephone and cable companies. Just like banking, the big customers would get the discounts. The little customers (consumers) would get the right to “choice” in the market (provided any real competitors survive), but not necessarily lower rates, better service, or rights to redress when things go wrong.
We think that this rush to deregulate telecommunications is just plain wrong and contrary to nearly a century of public policy on telecommunications. And so do most Canadians. In astudy conducted in the summer of 2005 by Decima Research, over 90% of Canadians expressed the view that each of the objectives of (i) reasonable price, (ii) good quality (iii) privacy (iv) disabled access and (v) rural access were important responsibilities of the federal government. Affordable access for low income Canadians was viewed as important by 86% of Canadians. None of these issues were mentioned as priorities with the companies.
We are worried that the public interest of all Canadian telecommunications users will lose to the few large private interests who have lobbied and argued for the unimpeded access to customers’ wallets. We think telecommunications services are essential to the Canadian way of life, and should never be compromised by allowing unreasonable rates, poor quality of service and marketplace abuses to occur. If we deregulate telecommunications in the way that the big telephone companies desire, we will have abandoned meaningful consumer protection for the financial benefit of a handful of big companies.
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
November 1, 2005