CRTC deserts cell phone and Internet users

The Canadian Radio-Telecommunications Commission‘s(CRTC) legalese-free “bill of rights” – covering local telephoneservice – has been lauded as a pro-consumer initiative.

While it’s certainly that, the bill, released early this week,falls short as it fails to offer protections to the growing numberof cell phone and Internet service consumers, says a consumeradvocacy group.

A key benefit of the new “bill” is that it untangles confusingrules and regulations that consumers had to wade through.

“It was a sorely needed initiative,” said John Lawford, counselfor the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa.

But protections offered by the bill, he said, should also beextended to cell phone and Internet users.

The CRTC, on Tuesday, restated key consumer rightsrelating to local home phone service, in clear and understandableterms.

Traditional telephone companies were directed to include thisstatement of consumer rights on their Web site, and theirresidential telephone directories.

Barb Cram, a commissioner with the federal telephony watchdog,said the statement clarifies key consumer rights including: theright to a local telephone service, to choose a phone company, toconfidentiality, and to register a dispute or complaint.

“These are not new rights, but rather a consolidation andrestatement of terms established back in the 1980s,” Cramclarified. “Some terms were incomprehensible. We’ve reworded thesein ways the common person can easily understand.”

The rules only apply to incumbent phone companies such asBellCanada in Ontario. Competitors such as Rogers, Primus andVonage are not covered.

PIAC’s Lawford sees this as “unfair” to the competitors’customers. “Competitors have been getting a virtuallyregulation-free ride,” he said.

“Competition will drive the phone companies to provide betterservice and lower prices in such a situation,” said Cram.

Lawford, however, warned it could result in further erosion ofconsumer protection. “Service might be cheaper, but there would befewer restrictions on how providers treat some customers.”

He said people with low credit ratings might find it hard toobtain phone service or might be required to pay higherdeposits.

Lawford also rued the absence of regulation covering thecellular and Internet service provider (ISP) markets. “The area isso far off the CRTC radar right now.”

For instance, consumers are often required to pay exorbitantbreak-up fees if they decide to terminate their cell phonesubscription before their contract expires, he said.

Lawford said his organization has been receiving an increasingnumber of calls from cell phone and Internet users who complainabout billing errors, disconnections, or bad service.

“For every caller complaining about landline service, we receivearound five calls from cell phone users.”

He said the rights for traditional phone service users “is agood baseline” for similar regulations covering the cellular andInternet markets.

However, he believes calling for regulation of these services”will be like paddling up a creek” as the concerned governmentagencies are not inclined to deal with this issue.

Lawford said when Industry Canada came out with atelecommunications policy review in February this year, it did notmention any need to regulate cell phone and Internet serviceproviders.

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