PIAC projects: Spam, fees, privacy, basic tv

(PIAC 6/April/2010) The Public Interest Advocacy Centre is working on major reports about spam and broadband policy. The advocacy centre is in consultations with the federal privacy commissioner on ways to better protect young people using social media. The group was part of a parliamentary lobby by the Canadian Consumer Initiative conducted the last week of March which called for broadband for everyone, reintroduction of the anti-spam bill and fair usage. PIAC continues to fight for a definition of basic television service, all-inclusive advertised prices, flyers’ rights, data breach protocols and improved banking regulations. Hidden fees and fees levied for non-existent services remain a major cause.

National fund needed to protect passengers from airline bankruptcies, PIAC says

(PIAC 6/April/2010) “Skyservice was forced into bankruptcy raising important questions about who monitors the financial health of our airlines, and Shirlee Engel discovered the answer isn’t very reassuring for flyers,” Global National reported on March 31.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre’s Michael Janigan told Global: We have felt for years and so has the travel industry that it is time that there was closer financial scrutiny of airlines and that airlines paid into a national scheme that ensure that all customers will get their money back if the airlines fail.

Copyright Act: Fix fair dealing

(PIAC 6/April/2010) “More than 25 library, education, creator, and consumer groups (including PIAC) have issued a public letter calling on Industry Minister Tony Clement and Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore to adopt a flexible fair dealing approach,” Michael Geist reported on March 25.
“We don’t want legislation like the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act,” PIAC’s John Lawford says. He says PIAC is concerned that consumers may not have the right to make backups and alternative formats of products they have paid for like DVDs.

EU uses wireless price ceilings to prevent customer gouging

(PIAC 6/April/2010) The Senate transport and communications committee is studying emerging issues related to the wireless sector. “Under committee questioning, Mirko Bibic, Bell Canada senior vice-president of regulatory affairs, said easing the foreign ownership rules for the telecom sector is not a solution to high mobile phone pricing,” Karen Fournier wrote for Wire Report on March 30.
“Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) executive director and general counsel Michael Janigan told The Wire Report that, when it comes to pricing issues, it is to Bell’s advantage to argue that there is enough competition in the Canadian telecom market.
“Roaming fees and some other fees of this nature, including things like long-distance, have been a continual source of friction with customers,” he said in a phone interview. “This has led to jurisdictions like the European Union setting price ceilings to prevent the gouging of customers, and certainly that’s something that may be on the table (in Canada] for the future,” Fournier wrote for Wire Report.

Consumer groups call for better telecommunications services for all Canadians

(PIAC 6/April/2010) “Now is the time to ask the CRTC to require Canadian telecommunications companies to do more for Canada. We intend to argue, and we think Canadians will agree, that access to telephone, cellphone and especially broadband Internet at affordable rates, acceptable data speed and quality of service is crucial for all Canadians, and for our success as a country, both socially and economically,” says John Lawford, counsel for PIAC, an Ottawa-based non-profit organization that provides legal representation, research and advocacy on behalf of consumers. PIAC will represent Canada Without Poverty, Option consommateurs and Rural Dignity of Canada.
The CRTC’s examination culminates with public hearings starting Oct. 25 2010.

Nouvelles règles hypothécaires : Les acheteurs auront toujours une marge de manoeuvre

(PIAC 6/April/2010) « Le mois dernier, le ministre canadien des Finances, Jim Flaherty, a annoncé de nouvelles règles concernant l’achat de propriétés. Ces mesures, qui seront en vigueur à partir du 19 avril, sont toutefois timides et ne devraient pas trop perturber les acheteurs, selon plusieurs spécialistes » Métro a rapporté le 18 mars.
« Les nouvelles mesures sont encore très permissives, soutient Jean-François Vinet, analyste des services financiers chez Option consommateurs. “Les nouvelles règles permettent encore un taux d’endettement qui laisse peu de marge de manoeuvre aux ménages”, déplore-t-il » Stéphane Rolland a écrit pour Métro.

Aviation Safety News: Senator Kenny, safety management systems and more

(PIAC 6/April/2010) On March 10 Aviation Safety News reported on the removal of Senator Colin Kenny from the security committee, near misses in Vancouver and Calgary, blue ice, AC Flight 190, Air France Flight 447 and Transport Canada outsourcing safety. Aviation Safety News is a project of Transport Action Canada and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

PIAC comments on telecommunications foreign ownership provisions

(PIAC 6/April/2010) On March 4 PIAC was asked about the effect of the loosening of foreign ownership rules on Canadian subsidiaries in the telecommunications market. PIAC is not in a position to comment from the standpoint of matters such as employment, taxation, research and development, or cultural sovereignty. PIAC’s comments are directed to the possible effect on the position of the consumer in the telecommunications marketplace.
PIAC notes consumers have not been provided with lower prices and more choices by the major Canadian telecommunications players as promised when they were deregulated some three years ago through the actions of then Industry Minister Maxime Bernier in response to the lobbying of the big telephone companies. The budget changes are clearly directed to addressing this market and policy failure.
“New foreign entrants may may make for more competitive telecom markets with more efficient pricing and choice, particularly in markets where there is largely a duopoly between the old telephone company and the incumbent cable provider. But if relaxation of foreign ownership rules leads to takeovers and mergers of existing Canadian firms, we won’t get there. As well, more foreign competition won’t solve the problem of the need for enforceable rules ensuring consumer friendly standards and conduct by providers,” says Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

Stop web sites from collecting personal information on kids under 13, PIAC says

(PIAC 6/April/2010) “ …one often-targeted group is children, particularly if they visit certain popular websites designed for interaction. A group called the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa says that some of these sites use personal information to adapt the website to fit the child’s profile. Then advertisers pay for exposure to this profiled child through games or other fun activities. PIAC is calling for a ban on the collection of personal information for kids under 13. When they turn 18, it would like to see their private data wiped from websites unless they consent to leave it as is,” CBC News reported on Feb. 5.
“Social networking is a huge swindle,” says John Lawford, a lawyer with PIAC. “Everybody has been taken for a ride. People didn’t question the business model. But that business model is to sell personal information to targets ads,” Catherine McLean wrote in a special report.
“Why should anyone care if personalized ads are directed at them? They might be susceptible to the products targeted at them, whether it’s sugary foods, weight loss pills, or gambling, Lawford points out. Or they could find themselves boxed in a certain category from an early age,” CBC reported.

Les agences de recouvrement doivent suivre les règles

(PIAC 6/April/2010) « Elle vous menace de vous poursuivre? De publier votre nom dans le journal? De saisir votre épagneul? C’est illégal » La Presse a rapporté le 15 février. « À Option consommateurs, on conseille aux personnes harcelées de dire à l’agent de recouvrement qu’elles vont consulter un conseiller budgétaire avec lequel elles évalueront leur capacité de remboursement. Elles pourront ensuite faire une proposition de paiement qu’elles seront en mesure de respecter. “Souvent, ça fait diminuer la pression”, indique Caroline Arel. L’offre pourra être acceptée ou rejetée par l’agent, mais le consommateur en retirera au moins une idée claire de sa situation budgétaire » Marc Tison a rapporté.

La taxe sur les boissons gazeuses

(PIAC 6/April/2010) « L’idée de taxer la malbouffe fait son chemin au Québec. … La Coalition sur la problématique du poids – la Coalition Poids – défend le projet avec vigueur, malgré les bémols de plus en plus nombreux qui s’élèvent, ici et ailleurs, contre cette mesure. … François Décary-Gilardeau, analyste agroalimentaire à Option consommateurs: “On punit des comportements malsains avant de favoriser les comportements sains” » La Presse a rapporté le 16 février.
« “Le prix du lait a augmenté de 20% depuis cinq ans, note-t-il. Deux litres de jus d’orange coûtent pratiquement 4$ alors que la boisson à l’orange sucrée est vendue 1,99$. Même prix pour deux litres de Coke. … Dans la région de Montréal, certains quartiers sont des déserts alimentaires. Les gens doivent faire leur marché au dépanneur, estime François Décary-Gilardeau » Stéphanie Bérubé a écrit.

Time to retire touch-tone fee: PIAC

(PIAC 6/April/2010) On Jan. 23 PIAC, filed a complaint with the CRTC, “saying that Bell was levying the touch-tone fee for some rotary-phone customers who did not have touch-tone service,” CBC News reported on Feb. 2. The report said Bell found 20,000 customers who had touch-tone service but were not being billed for it. These customers received notice of a $2.80/mo charge.
“However, one client, 79-year-old Marian Trafford of Toronto, informed Bell she’s never had a touch-tone phone. She contacted PIAC, which is advocating on her behalf and possibly others who might be affected, said John Lawford, counsel for the advocacy centre. … By Lawford’s account, Bell’s touch-tone fee should no longer be listed as a line item but rather folded into the general bill because it no longer has anything do with touch-tone service,” Charlene Sadler reported for CBC News.
“Keeping it as a line item affords Bell the opportunity to make incremental increases without raising customer ire, he said. Surveys done by PIAC have shown that people are more likely to complain if their general bill goes up than if the increases appear to be linked to operational cost broken out in a line item.”
On Feb. 5 Wire Report headlined a story: “Bell acknowledges it wrongly charged rotary phone users a touch-tone fee”.

BC Hydro customers brace for ‘rate shock’

(PIAC 6/April/2010) “Hydro will submit its rate request in early March to the B.C. Utilities Commission, and information posted last year on Hydro’s website projects a rate increase totalling 11.42 per cent for the 2011 fiscal year, and 8.7 per cent in 2012. In the past two years, rates went up a total of 11 per cent,” the Vancouver Sun reported on Jan. 29.
“Jim Quail, executive director of the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which represents the interests of Hydro residential customers, said “there is a whole lot of converging factors that are going to drive rates up over the next while.” He said the advocacy centre’s primary concern is the B.C. government’s desire to develop an export power industry,” the Sun’s Scott Simpson wrote. Jim Quail is member of the Board of Directors of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.