Expanding consumer safeguards

In an unusual move, the CRTC issued an interim decision at the end of its oral hearing that was reviewing the CCTS.

The office of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services was established 3 years ago and one of the key issues in the current review process was whether membership would continue to be mandatory and if so, for what period of time.

Until yesterday, telecommunications service providers (TSPs), including carriers, resellers, ISPs, mobile service providers, etc. with annual Canadian TSP revenues greater than $10M were required to be members. There was a planned expiration of that order: December 20, 2010.

The CRTC will not be issuing its formal decision until January which left a possible gap in the ability for the CCTS to operate with any level of certainty. So, at the conclusion of the oral proceeding yesterday, the CRTC asked for a 15 minute adjournment and it returned with a statement:

we are of the view that all residential and small business consumers that obtain forborne telecom services in Canada, including those that receive services from TSPs that do not have more than $10 million in revenues, should benefit from the services provided by the CCTS.

In the precedent setting ruling from the bench, the Commission decided that all TSPs (offering services within the scope of the CCTS’s mandate) are to be members of the agency for a period of 5 years.

The 5 year period was determined to be appropriate “to ensure sufficient certainty for the effective planning and operation of the Agency.”

The ruling is effective as of December 20th for current members of the CCTS and will apply to current non-member TSPs at a date that will be specified in the Commission’s decision, expected to be issued in January 2011.

In its Monitoring Report, the CRTC has estimated that there are about 500 entities delivering internet access services; most ISPs are not members of the CCTS.

Will they all join? I doubt it.

Will all of the smaller service providers really need to join in order to provide consumers with a uniform level of protection? The regulatory requirement to join may be sufficient to push service providers to consider consumer complaints with appropriate levels of seriousness.

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