The CRTC’s low-cost data-only plan decision released yesterday was as unsurprising as it was uninspired. Under CRTC Chair Ian Scott, the Commission has abandoned any pretense of consumer focus, reverting to the days when Canadians perceived the regulator as a guardian of industry interests. The low-cost data-only decision, which is ostensibly designed to address a serious gap in affordable wireless services, will do little to solve the problem. Indeed, even the CRTC admitted that “none of the revised plans on their own would necessarily be enough to fill the gap identified by the Commission with respect to lower-cost data-only plans.” Those revised plans, which CRTC largely supported, would be laughably uncompetitive in most developed countries (as one expert noted yesterday, $30 for 1 GB is not a low cost data plan).
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The continuing consumer group boycott of the CRTC’s Internet code proceeding was raised directly with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during Question Period in the House of Commons yesterday. NDP MP Brian Masse noted “the CRTC says it wants to establish a consumer Internet code of conduct, but has failed to provide sufficient time for consumer groups and the public. The result is a boycotted and broken system.” Trudeau’s responded that the government was proud of working with the CRTC and included a parting shot at the NDP, commenting on its support of a taxes on Internet usage. Regardless of the NDP position on an Internet tax (Masse says he opposes one), what is notable is that it is the CRTC that has emerged as a vocal supporter of an ISP tax. CRTC Chair Ian Scott’s decision to back an ISP tax as part of a larger scheme to regulate Internet-based services not only runs counter to Trudeau’s opposition to an Internet tax but it also points to a regulator that is increasingly anti-consumer in approach.
Boycott: What If The CRTC Launched a Consumer Internet Code and Consumer Groups Refused to Participate in its Development?
Last month, the CRTC announced plans to create an Internet Code of Conduct. The CRTC promised that the code would establish “consumer friendly business practices, provide consumers with easy-to-understand contracts, ensure consumers have tools to avoid bill shock, and make it easier for consumers to switch providers.” The code attracted some initial criticism due to the wide range of exclusions – everything from net neutrality to privacy to broadband speeds falls outside its scope – but in recent days an even bigger concern has emerged with several leading Canadian consumer groups actively boycotting the proceeding.
The Canadian government’s strong pro-net neutrality position has served as its telecom policy foundation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other government ministers frequently citing Canada’s commitment to the policy. In fact, the current review of broadcast and telecommunications legislation described net neutrality as “a key Government priority given its importance for freedom of expression and the ‘innovation without permission’ ethos that underpins the success of the Internet.”
Yet despite the emphasis on strong net neutrality rules, CRTC Chair Ian Scott used a keynote speech last week to open the door to watering down Canadian net neutrality rules, noting his desire for “flexibility” with the legislation.
CRTC Rebuked: Government Signals Frustration With the Commission Prioritizing Carriers Over Consumers
Telecom issues were in the spotlight yesterday with the government ordering the CRTC to “examine claims of aggressive or misleading sales practices concerning telecommunications services, the prevalence and impact on consumers, as well as potential solutions.” The Order-in-Council, which was accompanied by a request to the Competition Bureau to provide assistance, follows CBC reports on misleading sales tactics from companies such as Bell and Rogers and the CRTC’s rejection of a request to conduct an inquiry into the matter. The announcement from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains is a welcome development, signalling the government’s frustration with a CRTC under new chair Ian Scott that has seemingly abandoned consumer interests.