Cellphone bills: PIAC calls for better consumer protection

On March 11 CBC TV’s Marketplace asked who has Canada’s worst cellphone bill? Consumers told Marketplace—“No one’s trying to help me out— It’s daylight robbery—I felt like crying when I opened this bill.” A Marketplace panel gave the prize to Perry Franz for his $17,148.75 bill from Bell Mobility.
Host Tom Harrington interviewed Industry Minister Tony Clement who suggested the CRTC could do something about cellphone companies. When Harrington noted the CRTC has no jurisdiction over the wireless industry the Minister suggested new competition is helping. Marketplace reported total revenue for Canadian cellphone companies in 2009 was $16.9 billion dollars with 94% of the market controlled by Rogers, Bell and Telus.
Harrington also interviewed PIAC’s John Lawford who said: “Customer service, unfortunately, on its own, is a problem with cellphone companies in particular. They have a lot of front line staff to deflect questions, to tell people that they’re wrong, and that they need to pay these bills. It’s a business model predicated on disrespect really.” On the failure of the federal government to do anything Lawford told Marketplace: “You have Quebec saying it’s such a big problem for consumers we have to take a chance and try to regulate it. Manitoba thinking about it – Ontario might do it. That kind of pressure is the only way to get the federal authorities to do something about it.”

Option consommateurs spokespersons will be available to assess the budget

Option consommateurs spokespersons Anu Bose, Head of the Ottawa office and Maryse Guenette, Head of Research and Representation in the Ottawa office will be available to comment on the March 22 federal budget. “Option consommateurs has made several recommendations to the government on strengthening consumer voice in the marketplace. We will be scrutinising the budget to see if the government is listening to consumers,” say Guenette and Bose.

Abandoned in the market: The sad state of Canadian consumer protection

“The Internet and social networks are clearly playing larger roles in the successful presentation of consumer issues and generating public response. What is needed is a method to bridge the gap between the ability to organize around a particular issue, and the need for a continuous, resourced consumer presence on marketplace issues that is capable of taking on the formidable armada of lobbyists, flak-catchers, CEOs and media shills that impede efforts to provide redress for consumers,” Michael Janigan said in a lecture to the Jurisprudence Centre of Carleton University on March 2, 2011.
PIAC’s executive director and general counsel said: “Ideally this funding would be independent of political machinations and ostracism on the basis of positions that differ from the government. It would be reasonable if a portion of the fines and administrative monetary penalties from marketplace misconduct, or public education funds in consumer based class action awards went to independent NGOs dedicated to consumer protection. By having the source of the funds separated from the general government budgeting process, there is less opportunity for the rigging of the process by the government to avoid embarrassment or a particular result.
“Secondly, much of the deregulation and withdrawal of black letter regulation or enforcement has taken place without an empirical review to confirm or debunk positive results for consumers. PIAC’s recent telecom review study has shown that the restructuring of the telecommunications industry has had very mixed results yet the decision to forbear from regulation has never been subsequently challenged. Where forbearance takes place, it should be subject to periodic review.
“Thirdly, Canada needs a Consumer Protection Commissioner to act in the same fashion as the Competition Commissioner in studying industries, encouraging public engagement as well the enforcement of applicable consumer protection as warranted. Finally, we need an approach to marketplace issues that relies on actual results not simply the intent to please the best resourced stakeholders in the hope that their success will rub off on our economy and political party bank accounts,” Janigan said. Download the full text

CRTC refuses bid to widen internet review: Retail-price maintenance

“Canada’s telecom regulator said (March 11) it will not expand its probe into Internet pricing to look at the billing practices of retail internet services because market forces are working just fine for consumers. … The CRTC also said it would be inappropriate to expand the review, as requested by many, to cover the overall regulatory framework for wholesale high-speed Internet access services. The review — now to include online consultations and oral hearings in July — will examine the issue of network capacity and congestion,” Sarah Schmidt reported for Postmedia News on March 11.
“The Public Interest Advocacy Centre was one of the groups calling for the scope of the CRTC’s review to be expanded. Staff lawyer John Lawford called CRTC’s salvo “passive aggressive,” saying it’s an indication of where CRTC is heading with usage-based billing. “Basically they’re saying you can talk about capacity and congestion if you like, but they’re going to stick to deciding the wholesale regime on the principle that usage-based billing needs to be used to punish people that go over certain notional limits that they think is a heavy user. Well, why should one party — that is the major ISPs — be able to decide what the level is for someone who is a wholesale customer, like TekSavvy, that can decide that for themselves? I just do not understand how they can say that with a straight face and think that they’re not engaging in what would be, but for their little legal regulatory regime here, retail-price maintenance,” Postmedia News quoted PIAC counsel John Lawford.

Éviter que la maison ne s’envole : Option consommateurs

« Tant que les prix de l’immobilier continueront de grimper au pays, la question continuera de se poser : les Canadiens sont-ils en présence d’une bulle, comme celle qui a éclaté aux États-Unis en 2007, provoquant une débandade dont les effets se font encore sentir chez nos voisins du Sud ? Les nouveaux acheteurs habiteront-ils, dans quelques années, une maison valant moins que le solde de leur emprunt hypothécaire ? » Isabelle Ducas a écrit pour L’Actualité, no. Vol: 36 No: 5 1 avril 2011.
« Selon Option consommateurs, le gouvernement devrait se pencher sur les ratios qu’utilisent les prêteurs pour déterminer la somme qu’ils peuvent accorder à un acheteur. Ces ratios tiennent compte des revenus, des dettes, des impôts fonciers, des frais de chauffage, mais pas des autres dépenses, comme la garderie, une pension alimentaire, l’arrivée d’un enfant ou la nécessité d’acheter une seconde voiture. ” Beaucoup de gens font confiance aux représentants des institutions financières. Ils se disent que ceux-ci sont compétents et que s’ils acceptent de leur prêter 300 000 dollars, c’est parce que c’est correct ”, dit Caroline Arel, avocate et responsable du Service budgétaire de l’organisme montréalais » L’Actualité a rapporté.
« De nombreux proprios qui ont mal évalué leur situation financière contactent Option consommateurs pour obtenir de l’aide lorsqu’ils n’arrivent plus à rembourser leur emprunt hypothécaire. Pour leur éviter les mauvaises surprises, l’organisme suggère aux futurs acheteurs de ” s’entraîner ” à épargner et de vivre en dessous de leurs moyens pendant qu’ils sont locataires, afin de tester leur capacité de faire face aux dépenses liées à la propriété. ” Attendre un an ou deux peut avoir une énorme incidence ”, dit Caroline Arel. Surtout que bien des gens ont déjà des dettes et auraient intérêt à les réduire avant d’acheter une maison » L’Actualité a rapporté.

Premium text messaging: Tell PIAC your story

“If you use your cell phone to text make sure you study your monthly bill carefully to avoid getting dinged repeatedly for unwanted premium text messaging subscriptions. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, or PIAC, is doing a study on consumers who have been charged for unwanted premium text subscriptions. The study’s author says there are problems with Canada’s system and it starts with consumer’s cell phone bills. PIAC says disputing the charges is almost impossible because consumers can’t access the details of the transactions,” ctvcalgary.ca reported on March 8.
If you have ever subscribed to or been charged for a mobile premium text message, please email PIAC at premiumtext@piac.ca and tell us about your experience! (Please indicate if PIAC has permission to quote your story.)
“The Advocacy Centre says as far as it knows no Canadian cell companies allow clients to put a block on premium subscriptions. However, there is no technological reason why they can’t. Other countries, like Australia, require all cell companies to provide consumers with that option as a condition of being allowed to carry and bill for premium text services at all. There is about 500 premium text messaging subscription services currently operating in Canada,” ctvcalgary.ca reported. 

Canadians top users and top payers: Low competition in high speed net industry

“Canadians … pay some of the steepest high-speed connection rates in the world. The New America foundation compared prices in 10 industrialized countries last spring and found Internet users in Canada, Finland and the U.S. pay $2.68, $2.79 and $2.90 per megabyte respectively. … The Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society also gave Canada a poor grade when it comes to bang-for-your-buck, ranking Canada 19th overall among the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development last year,” Stefania Moretti wrote for QMI Agency on March 9.
‘Major Internet providers tend to criticize any report that comes along, said John Lawford, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “But we are consistently in the bottom third in terms for the speed you get and the amount you pay,” QMI reported. “Telecom companies have also been squeezing customers with lower download caps as demand for broadband-heavy content such as video increases. Canada is among only a handful of countries globally that has restrictive download caps. “It boils down to low competition,” QMI quoted Lawford.

The Canadian Broadcasting Participation Fund: CRTC accepts PIAC proposal

On March 7 the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved the takeover of CTVglobemedia by Bell Canada. The decision directed Bell to create a $3-million Canadian Broadcasting Participation Fund.
The CRTC decision reads: “PIAC submitted a proposal for an independent fund to represent non-commercial consumer interests before the Commission in its broadcasting proceedings. The Commission considers that PIAC’s submission presents an appropriate starting point for the development of the CBPF’s mandate, as well as insights relating to its governance and operation. PIAC stated that the goal of this new fund would be to represent non-commercial user interests before the Commission in its broadcasting proceedings.”
“Independently administered fund that will focus its activities on the representation of the interests of non-commercial consumers of broadcasting services regulated by the Commission across Canada and in both official languages. The fund will provide assistance with the representation, research and advocacy of those interests,” the CRTC decision says.

700 MHz Auction: 25% set aside

On March 1 Public Interest Advocacy Centre said 25% of the next spectrum auction should be set aside for new entrants, public safety demands and to spur innovative community-based broadcasting initiatives. The consumer watchdog said the auction process associated with the 700 MHz Band must address more than simply the goal of obtaining the highest price for the use of the spectrum. Policy makers use the auction to fix the problems with mobile wireless market in Canada, PIAC said in comment filed with Industry Canada.
The auction is expected to raise several billion dollars for the federal government. Click here for a link to the comments

Cellphones: No relationship between between costs and price

“Frank Spelde often goes to the United States to visit friends. He used to take his iPhone and pay $1.45 a minute in roaming charges under his Rogers plan. Last year, he downloaded a free app called Zerofone from the iTunes store. Now he pays $20 a month for unlimited calling to Canada, the U.S. and more than 40 other countries,” Ellen Roseman wrote in her March 1 Toronto Star column.
“Canadians pay inflated long-distance and roaming charges on cellphones, says John Lawford, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “There’s no regulation of cellphone costs at all and no relation between the cost of providing service and your plan,” he says. “So, get into a Wi-Fi spot when travelling and use your phone there,” the Toronto Star columnist wrote.

CFIB should not represent consumers on CCTS board

“Consumer groups only get two seats on the board of directors of Canada’s telecom consumer agency (industry gets three), so you can see why they’re keen to protect their turf. So when the head of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Service (CCTS) sent an email to a group of organisations that he considered qualified for the nomination of “consumer group directors,” full-fledged consumer groups took issue with the inclusion of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business,” Sarah Schmidt blogged for Postmedia News on March 1.
“The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has filed an application with the CRTC, asking for the nomination process to be stayed. The group is also seeking a finding that the consumer agency has misconstrued the eligible list of “consumer groups” and wants the CFIB to be removed from the list of eligible consumer groups able to participate in the nomination process for “consumer group directors,” the Postmedia blog report said.

Public interest group to challenge BC Hydro on rate increases

“BC Hydro this week unveiled details of a $6-billion capital plan it says will require rate increases totalling 32 per cent over the next three years. “We’re going to be challenging a lot of things going forward,” (Jim) Quail, executive director of the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said in an interview,” with the Vancouver Sun.
Jim Quail is also a director of the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
“Quail said he doesn’t believe it is appropriate for residential customers to contribute to BC Hydro’s $364-$525-million Northwest Transmission Line, a 344-kilometre power line to run north from Terrace. … “The Northwest Transmission Line, essentially is a financial subsidy to the mining and developments using people’s hydro bills,” Quail said. “The policy question is, is this a really appropriate way to use people’s hydro bills?” Quail also questions the rationale for BC Hydro’s $930-million plan to install computerized smart electricity metres in B.C. homes and businesses. That money, he said, could better be spent retrofitting old buildings to conserve more electricity,” Derrick Penner wrote for the Vancouver Sun on Feb. 24.

Option consommateurs: The Brick faces class action for alleged misleading ads

The Quebec consumer group Option consommateurs is seeking punitive damages of $5 million after it says The Brick claimed clients would not have to pay interest on financed purchases for 15 months. The suit says that clients are in fact charged an annual fee of $35,” QMI Agency reported on Feb. 22.
“These are false or misleading claims,” the group’s lawyer, Stephanie Poulin, told QMI Agency. “It’s important that customers be reimbursed.” Option consommateurs filed the class-action request in November 2009. The group says any clients who paid the $35 fee following a purchase at The Brick would be eligible for reimbursement, if the lawsuit is successful,”QMI Agency reported.