Canada’s largest wireless carrier is fighting for a more industry-friendly code of conduct.
Rogers Communications Inc. came out against key proposals designed to empower customers on Tuesday, a stance that risks raising the ire of consumer advocates and the powerful small-business lobby.
On the second day of public hearings into a new wireless code for the $19-billion industry, Rogers argued that national standards should only apply to consumer contracts but not commercial and corporate accounts.
The company also warned against a provision in the draft code that allows customers to take advantage of better protections offered by other federal or provincial laws, arguing that having multiple sets of rules would only create more tension between carriers and consumers, while driving up costs for the industry.
The condition that the wireless code should be interpreted in favour of consumers was at the heart of draft provisions released by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in January.
“The proposal to apply the federal or provincial provision that is most favourable to the consumer will create ambiguity and inevitably result in more disputes,” Ken Engelhart, senior vice-president of regulatory affairs, told the CRTC.
“Who will decide which clause is more favourable? Is terminating service at the end of a contract term, the rule in Nova Scotia, more customer friendly than extending it on a month-to-month basis, as the commission proposes?”
He added: “Failing to make the correct choice could subject carriers to penalties. This clause creates uncertainty when the Code is supposed to be providing clarity. That is why a single national code is needed.”
Although that stance is supported by Telus Corp. and BCE Inc., it is bound to deepen an industry rift on the issue. New entrants, including Quebecor Inc., Wind Mobile and Mobilicity, have accused incumbents of trying to escape stricter provincial laws.
Quebecor has argued that suspending the national code in provinces that have similar consumer-protection laws “constitutes an approach that is flexible and perfectly justifiable,” according to its French-language submission.
Wind Mobile, meanwhile, argues that a national code should not negate stronger protections offered by current or future provincial laws that could permit consumers to pursue remedies such as class-action lawsuits or the recovery of punitive damages.
Quebec, for instance, is able to levy fines of up to $100,000, whereas the federal Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, who will administer the national code, cannot levy “punitive” penalties on carriers and can only order them to pay compensation of up to $5,000.
Provinces including Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Ontario have either enacted or proposed consumer-protection legislation on wireless contracts in recent years.
The government of Quebec has already told the CRTC that it has every intention of defending its turf on consumer protection by retaining its existing wireless legislation.
CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais grilled Rogers, which has more than nine million wireless subscribers, about why the regulator should take away those additional options for consumers.
“Why do you want us to do that dirty work?” Mr. Blais asked. He later added: “You are turning to us to occupy the field in a way [that’s] to your benefit, but I am not sure it is to the benefit of Canadians or the CRTC.”
In response, Rogers’s Mr. Engelhart said he understands why the CRTC would be leery about picking fights with provinces, but insisted that it is in the best interests of consumers to have a single code enforced by a regulator that understands the industry.
The Toronto-based carrier is also concerned about another draft code provision that would require carriers to provide consumers with a “personalized information summary” that sums up key terms of any wireless contract without committing to an agreement. Consumer advocates say that proposal will make it easier for consumers to shop market for the best deals.
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