Mark Goldberg

Fox Group Dispatch

The need for credible consumer voices

I have been overseas for the past week, visiting Israel, one of the world’s most competitive mobile markets. I may share some perspectives on that market in future posts.

While I was gone, the CRTC released the 2017 edition of its Communications Monitoring Report (CMR) [pdf, 10 MB] and the usual suspects played mathematical gymnastics to misrepresent the findings of the Report, perhaps to advance their agendas, or to ask donors for funding or perhaps because they are simply mathematically illiterate.

For example, a writer who specializes in technology said “Internet & wireless prices in Canada continue to soar, as per today’s #CRTC report”

A so-called consumer advocacy group used the report to solicit support for donations, saying “Home Internet prices rose by nearly 10 per cent while mobile wireless prices increased by just over five per cent, as telecommunications price increases continue to far outpace the rate of inflation.”

In fact, what the CMR actually says is that “wireless prices generally declined”.

Canadians’ total household communications spending increased 1.7%, but people consumed significantly more data on their mobile and home connections. The CRTC showed that more people actively changed their subscriptions to higher speed plans. Bills didn’t soar. At 1.7%, how can a group honestly claim “telecommunications price increases continue to far outpace the rate of inflation.”

Now, of course we would like the prices to come down, but that is true for every product or service we buy. The data shows that value is increasing; Canadians are getting more for their communications dollars.

The discussion about Canada’s communications industry structure and regulatory framework isn’t helped by such purveyors of such fake news.

Unrelated to the CMR, I was away when news came that Canada’s Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) was teetering on financial collapse, in part because of changes to the CRTC’s cost awards process that now waits until a decision has been released before costs are awarded.

There have been a number of major consultations over the past few years and some consumer groups participated in a significant way. Some extremely large cost applications were filed, asking for unprecedented levels of cost reimbursement.

At the same time, the CRTC has taken longer and longer to release decisions, in part because of the complexity of the cases being taken on and no doubt, in part because of other distractions.

The result has been a completely unfair amount of time to provide directions for costs reimbursements.

I may not agree with many of the positions put forward by PIAC, but the organization usually brings an important perspective to the hearings in which it participates. I don’t believe it represents all consumers, and likely not even most consumers. But PIAC most often represents disadvantaged consumers who generally don’t have any other strong or credible voice in regulatory proceedings, and as such, the organization plays an important role in Canada’s regulatory processes.

The cost awards system is broken. It would be unfortunate if PIAC becomes a casualty of the regulatory process. We need to find a new model to ensure that PIAC’s stakeholders continue to be represented at the Commission.

[Update: November 24, 2018] You can make a tax deductible donation to PIAC here:

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