PIAC Concerned about Transparency of Telco Paper Billing Meeting

by Istvan Fekete on July 31, 2014

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced last week that it would meet with telcos to discuss the practice of charging for paper bills. Although charging for paper bills isn’t unique to Canada, there is one major issue consumer groups such as the PIAC and CAC emphasize in their open letter to CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais: the meeting that will determine whether and what Canadians will pay for a simple paper copy of their communication bills indicates clearly that “the CRTC puts Canadians outside in the cold.”

The open letter also complains about the regulator’s decision to dismiss the consumer groups’ application demanding the CRTC prohibit telecommunications carriers’ practice of billing for paper invoices.

“In addition, dismissing our formal complaint without any notice nor opportunity to defend its requests takes a powerful advocate away from the average Canadian, and in particular vulnerable Canadians. We have no confidence that the formal requests in our complaint will be raised by the Commission in the closed-door meeting nor that the arguments we made and would have made about the cost of this practice to consumers will be seriously addressed.”

The letter is signed by both John Lawford, executive director and general counsel of the PIAC, and Bruce Cran, president of the Consumer’s Association of Canada, who once again emphasize the importance of public discussion regarding consumer problems instead of holding private meetings.

Although the study is yet to be made public, the consumer groups note how much it costs Canadians each year: $600 million. And if the CRTC decides to end industry inconsistency by implementing fees for paper billing, this figure could increase. “PIAC has prepared an estimate of present communications industry-wide revenues for an upcoming report. However, we will give you the punchline: $600 million a year. That’s what we estimate Canadians presently pay the industry for paper bills,” the letter says.

In its reply letter signed by Barbara Motzney, chief consumer officer and executive director for Consumer Affairs and Strategic Policy, the regulator pointed to the original news release expressing concern about the lack of choice regarding paper bills, and it will explore regulatory options if there is no industry consensus in the matter.

“You and all Canadians can be assured that acting in the public interest is paramount for Tom Pentefountas, Vice-Chair Broadcasting, and Peter Menzies, Vice-Chair Telecommunications, as they enter into discussions with the companies. In fact, we expect the companies to step up on August 28 and come up with a clear and predictable approach to paper bill fees, if any, as well as exemptions for any such fees. The Commission is prepared to explore regulatory options if the industry fails to find an appropriate approach.”

Acknowledging the consumer group’s disappointment at the dismissal of its application, the regulator nevertheless suggested it has no plans to change its original intention to hold private discussion with telcos, as it believes it is acting on behalf of Canadians, anyway.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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