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.
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Boycott: What If The CRTC Launched a Consumer Internet Code and Consumer Groups Refused to Participate in its Development?
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.
Few policy issues have proven as frustrating as the state of Canadian wireless pricing. For the better part of a decade, Conservative and Liberal governments have grappled with overwhelming evidence that Canadian consumers pay some of the highest prices for wireless services in the world. The solution has always seemed obvious: more competition. Yet despite repeated efforts to nudge the market and regulator toward a more competitive environment, the needle has barely moved.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes that the latest failed effort was sparked by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains’ June 2017 request to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to reconsider a decision on how regional and smaller wireless companies access wholesale roaming services from larger providers.