Mark Goldberg

Failing consumer interests

The Wire Report says seven consumer groups have now decided not to participate in the CRTC’s Telecom Notice of Consultation 2018-422 “Call for comments – Proceeding to establish a mandatory code for Internet services” [the Internet Code], blaming a lack of time and resources to participate effectively.

Joining the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) are:

The actions follow the CRTC rejecting a request by PIAC for an extension to the December 19 deadline for initial comments.

Within a day of the original request for an extension, FRPC was able to pull together a 6-page letter supporting the PIAC application, complete with 22 footnotes. CAC-Manitoba provided a 2-page letter of support. I was unable to find any letters to the CRTC from the other organizations requesting extensions of the deadlines or providing support for the PIAC request.

The groups had time to announce to the media they would not be participating, but many of the groups failed to send a note to the CRTC supporting PIAC’s original request for an extension. In its letter turning down PIAC’s request, the CRTC said “the Commission is not convinced that the current schedule, which allows 40 days before initial submissions are due, does not provide sufficient time for all parties to make their initial comments.” Had these groups actually taken a few minutes to write a letter a support for the PIAC application, indicating their specific resource difficulties, perhaps the Commission might have reached a different conclusion. Interestingly, in the same procedural letter sent to PIAC, the CRTC approved a request for an extension for the Canadian Association of the Deaf, stating CAD “has demonstrated that it requires a party-specific adjustment to the deadlines set out in the Notice”.

Now, I might have argued that the CRTC consultation is premature, given that the Commission has not yet made a determination on its TNC 2017-450, a proceeding that will identify what companies need to register as internet service providers. As such, we don’t yet know if “private Wi-Fi connections, such as those in coffee shops, in airports, on public transportation, and in shopping malls” are considered to be internet service providers. That consultation has been closed for a year without a decision. So, there may be large groups of companies that will need to register with the CRTC as service providers, but these companies have no idea that there is a regulatory code of conduct being developed without their participation.

The Internet Code notice of consultation itself has a description of Internet service that ignores transient connections: “Internet access services can be categorized as either fixed services (Internet services) or mobile wireless data services (mobile wireless services).” Yet consumers often are asked to pay for other internet access services, such as in venues like hotels and airports and convention centres. Shouldn’t users of these relatively high priced services be able to avail themselves of the same consumer protection codes?

The notice of consultation cites the Policy Direction, saying “When the Commission implements non-economic regulatory measures (such as industry codes or participation in the CCTS), the Policy Direction requires the Commission to implement these measures in as symmetrical and competitively neutral a manner as possible.” Data from the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) indicates that a disproportionately large number of complaints are generated by some of the smaller service providers, yet the preliminary view of the Commission is for the Code to apply only to large service providers (Bell; Cogeco; Eastlink; Northwestel; Rogers; SaskTel; Shaw; TELUS; Videotron; and Xplornet).

The CRTC notice created a template for participation, with 19 questions referencing a 17 page “Internet Code Working Document.” There were other options available to these groups. Remember, these organizations typically have applied for cost awards to cover participation in CRTC proceedings. Outside legal counsel, students and consultants could have been engaged to augment groups’ internal resources for preparing filings. I would have liked to see the groups work together (as many have so frequently in the past) to prepare initial submissions to meet the initial December 19 deadline in accordance with the timelines, and provide additional clarifications in the reply due at the end of January.

By ‘boycotting’ the CRTC process, these groups aren’t standing up in the interests of consumers. They failed to make their case for an extension to the CRTC and now, they are failing their constituents.

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