Transcript, Hearing February 8, 2017
Location: Gatineau, Quebec
Date: February 8, 2017
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Attendees and Location
Terrasses de la Chaudière
- Chairman: Jean-Pierre Blais
- Vice-Chairperson, Telecommunications: Peter Menzies
- Commissioner: Christopher MacDonald
- Legal Advisors: Adam Balkovec, Megan Maloney
- Secretary: Lynda Roy
- Hearing Manager: Meghan Wawryk
--- Upon commencing on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 9:01 a.m.
3007 LE PRÉSIDENT: À l’ordre, s’il vous plait. Order, please.
3008 Alors, Madame la secrétaire.
3009 LA SECRÉTAIRE: Bonjour, Monsieur le président. Bonjour à tous.
3010 Alors, nous avons à la table de présentation, Madame Sophy Lambert-Racine de l’Union des consommateurs.
3011 Alors, allez-y, vous avez 20 minutes pour votre présentation.
3012 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Bonjour à tous. Je suis Sophy Lambert-Racine…
3013 LA SECRÉTAIRE: On ne vous entend pas très bien. Votre micro soit ne fonc…
3014 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Est-ce que vous m’entendez bien? Pas du tout? Oui? Parfait.
3015 Donc, bonjour à tous.
3016 J’aimerais d’abord vous partager une réflexion, sur notre rôle et les moyens que nous employons pour défendre les droits et les intérêts des consommateurs. En effet, dans un univers mondialisé, où les technologies – et aussi les services offerts aux consommateurs – évoluent à un rythme effréné, il est opportun et sain de se remettre parfois en question, de revenir aux motivations de nos luttes, de se rappeler les buts que nous visons, afin de vérifier que notre mission soit toujours d’actualité et qu’elle s’arrime toujours harmonieusement aux besoins des consommateurs d’aujourd’hui et de demain.
3017 Cette réflexion nous a été inspirée notamment par le dossier public de la présente instance, notamment par les demandes de plusieurs membres de l’industrie et apparemment de certains consommateurs. Je pense par exemple à la durée des contrats. Parce que certains consommateurs préféraient les contrats de 36 mois qui permettent de plus petites mensualités, faut-il aujourd’hui retourner à cet ancien modèle? Je pense aussi aux demandes concernant les plafonds de frais supplémentaires pour les données mobiles. Dans le cas de forfaits partagés, est-ce que chacun des utilisateurs devrait avoir la possibilité de consentir à des frais d’utilisation supplémentaires, sans considération de qui est le titulaire du compte? Les consommateurs devraient-ils pouvoir renoncer à recevoir ces avis dès la conclusion de leur contrat? Devrait-on donner le feu vert au déplafonnement des frais de résiliation anticipée, pour permettre aux consommateurs de profiter, à la conclusion de contrat, d’une plus grande variété de bénéfices? Faut-il aujourd’hui se montrer plus permissif, au nom de l’innovation technologique et de la saine concurrence?
3018 Dans le cadre de cette réflexion, nous avons estimé primordial de retourner aux sources et de nous rappeler que l’un des éléments précurseurs de l’élaboration du Code auront été les changements apportés aux Lois sur la protection du consommateur, et plus particulièrement l’adoption de dispositions concernant les contrats à exécution successive de services fournis à distance – qui visaient en priorité, les télécoms. Ces dispositions ont été ajoutées à la LPC pour de nombreuses raisons : les plaintes abondantes des consommateurs, notamment, et un apparent déséquilibre sur le marché entre les droits des fournisseurs de services de télécommunications et les consommateurs. Le Code a ensuite emboité le pas, notamment avec l’objectif d’harmoniser les droits des consommateurs à travers le pays.
3019 En remontant encore un peu plus aux sources, si on y réfléchit, on arrive à l’origine des Lois sur la protection des consommateurs… les années ’70, une période d’effervescence économique, où les contrats de consommation et les contrats d’adhésion ont commencé à se multiplier. Bref, l’augmentation des problèmes de consommation a entrainé le besoin de ressources et de protection pour les citoyens. C’est dans ce contexte qu’est née la LPC, une loi d’ordre public visant à protéger les parties les plus vulnérables dans les contrats qui lient un consommateur et un commerçant.
3020 Un principe très important s’y trouve depuis près de quarante ans. Ce principe, ironiquement, établit une interdiction au consommateur, plutôt qu’au commerçant : le consommateur ne peut renoncer, par contrat, à un droit que lui confère la loi.
3021 Pourquoi ainsi empêcher aux consommateurs de décider par lui-même des droits auxquels ils souhaitent être assujettis, et de ceux auxquels ils souhaitent renoncer?
3022 Si ce choix peut, à première vue, paraitre un rien paternaliste, il découle pourtant de l’objet même de la loi : la protection des plus vulnérables, soit le consommateur qui se trouve en situation de désavantage. Notamment lorsqu’il se retrouve, avec son manteau sur le dos, un samedi après-midi, dans un magasin qui fourmille de clients impatients, à conclure un contrat de quarante pages avec un fournisseur, où les sueurs et le bruit pourraient bien l’empêcher de se concentrer. Et même sans la foule et le thermostat mal ajusté, incommodé quand même par la lecture immédiate de plusieurs dizaines de pages rédigées au moins en partie dans un langage juridique qu’il n’a pas nécessairement les moyens de comprendre, mais auquel il n’a pas le choix de consentir s’il veut recevoir le service. Contrat qui, même s’il devrait en théorie être exhaustif, sera plutôt subdivisé en différents documents, dont plusieurs ne seront disponibles qu’en ligne. À moins d’être particulièrement patient et persistant, et même avec une connaissance de base du droit, le consommateur serait-il réalistement capable d’identifier facilement les passages qui ne correspondent pas exactement à sa compréhension du contrat, ou d’identifier des passages du contrat qui auraient pour objectif de le faire renoncer à certains de ses droits prévus à la Loi? Qu’il ait ou non à les parapher?
3023 C’est pour ce genre de situation que les articles 261 et 262 de la LPC existent. Et, en toutes circonstances, pour assurer la protection du plus vulnérable des consommateurs, comme le rappelait récemment la Cour suprême.
3024 Le but de cette parenthèse n’était pas ici de demander l’ajout d’une telle disposition au Code, qui en ferait un instrument d’ordre public. Le Code n’est pas un ensemble de protections aussi exhaustif que les lois provinciales de protection du consommateur; il n’est pas nécessaire qu’il reprenne point par point tous leurs éléments. Nous invitons simplement le Conseil, en cas de doute, à remonter lui aussi aux sources. Le Code est, à défaut d’être identique à elles, un proche parent des lois provinciales. Ils partagent un objectif commun : la protection des consommateurs, la partie vulnérable des contrats. C’est la préoccupation première que le Conseil doit garder à l’esprit lorsque des parties prenantes lui demandent d’amoindrir certains des droits et des protections adoptés au Code. Adopter et codifier des exceptions que subira la majorité, au nom de besoins ou de préférences présumés d’une minorité, n’est pas conforme à la nature d’une loi qui vise à protéger la collectivité et plus particulièrement ses éléments les plus vulnérables.
3025 Par exemple, si on multiplie les exclusions permises à la suspension des frais supplémentaires, afin d’accommoder les quelques individus qui pourraient être importunés par ses interruptions, plusieurs subiront des factures surprises avant de comprendre les avantages des protections qui devraient leur être offertes. Cette disposition destinée à éviter les factures surprises serait moins efficace pour protéger les consommateurs les plus à risque.
3026 En somme, le Conseil fait face à un défi de taille, mais l’enjeu en vaut la peine. Il faut régler les ambiguïtés qui se sont glissées au Code, tout en évitant d’amoindrir la portée des droits qui ont été accordés aux consommateurs pour leur protection.
3027 Dans cet esprit, voici quelques commentaires ciblés en fonction du Code, point par point.
3028 L’un des objectifs clairement édicté au Code sur les services sans fil est de favoriser l’établissement d’un marché plus dynamique. Plusieurs mesures ont pour but et effet d’accroître la mobilité des consommateurs. Parmi ces mesures on compte : le plafonnement des frais de résiliation pour tous les consommateurs, la réduction de la durée à l’intérieur de laquelle des frais de résiliation peuvent être imposés aux consommateurs, l’obligation d’offrir des services de déverrouillage et l’obligation d’offrir une période d’essai de quinze jours.
3029 Le dossier public nous a permis d’identifier plusieurs menaces concernant ces nouveaux droits pour les consommateurs. Certains membres de l’industrie demandent de déplafonner les frais de résiliation anticipée. Il s’agirait à notre avis d’une grave erreur et d’un sérieux recul. Les frais de résiliation anticipée ont fait l’objet d’un nombre important de plaintes au cours des dernières années, et les lois provinciales aussi bien que le Code ont permis d’apporter un soulagement aux consommateurs. L’intangibilité des bénéfices que des membres de l’industrie demandent de pouvoir inclure dans les frais de résiliation pourrait occasionner des hausses excessives et arbitraires des frais imposés aux consommateurs. Une telle ouverture comporte trop de risques, par rapport aux avantages qu’a amenés le plafonnement. Le plafonnement des frais de résiliation a de toute évidence réglé un problème sur le marché. Les preuves sont faciles à trouver. Les plaintes ont diminué selon le CPRST et l’Office de la protection du consommateur. Par ailleurs, lorsque les législateurs ont adopté les dispositions relatives aux frais de résiliation, il n’y a eu au Québec, dans les années qui ont suivi, aucun impact négatif sur le revenu moyen mensuel par utilisateur. Bien au contraire, le RMPU a légèrement diminué.
3030 Sujet lié : le fait que la majorité des fournisseurs exigent désormais le paiement un mois d’avance, même pour des services postpayés, mais que le remboursement des sommes résiduelles en fin de contrat ne soit pas systématique auprès de tous. Il s’agit à notre avis d’une dérive du marché, et d’une manière de nier au consommateur son droit de résilier son contrat au moment de son choix. Nous espérons sincèrement que les présentes consultations permettront de résoudre ce problème.
3031 Le Code n’est pas un code volontaire; l’industrie ne devrait pas s’imaginer qu’elle peut ne s’y conformer que lorsque bon lui semble. En somme, en ce qui a trait aux frais de résiliation, nous recommandons un statu quo dans le libellé du Code, mais recommandons par ailleurs que des actions concrètes soient prises pour assurer la conformité de tous les acteurs du marché aux règles en place.
3032 À propos de la durée des contrats : il s’agit d’une question épineuse, puisque certains consommateurs ont exprimé leur insatisfaction. La réduction de la durée d’amortissement de l’appareil a occasionné dans plusieurs cas, une hausse des mensualités. C’est dans ce genre de situation, à notre avis, que l’optique de la protection des plus vulnérables prend tout son sens. Cette mesure, même si elle ne fait pas l’unanimité, a eu pour effet de nous débarrasser des contrats dont la longueur n’avait plus de lien avec la durée de vie utile des appareils. Si cette mesure impose aux consommateurs de faire des choix plus responsables, en fonction de leur budget, son effet n’en est que plus souhaitable. Nous encourageons donc fortement le Conseil à maintenir cette mesure, afin d’éviter que la mobilité des consommateurs soit de nouveau limitée par la durée des contrats.
3033 Sur les frais de déverrouillage : nous continuons à déplorer le fait que certains membres de l’industrie s’accordent des droits qui ne sont pas prévus au Code. Le fait, par exemple, d’offrir des tarifs différenciés, selon l’état du dossier de crédit du client nous semble totalement inacceptable. Car c’est bien de cela qu’il s’agit, lorsqu’on exige 150 $ pour le déverrouillage d’un appareil à un client à qui on a imposé le paiement d’un dépôt. Il nous semble de toute évidence que le déséquilibre du rapport de force entre les fournisseurs et les consommateurs s’accentue de manière drastique pour ceux qui sont en situation d’incertitude financière. Le Code prévoit déjà un délai de 90 jours pour protéger les fournisseurs de cas hypothétiques de fraude. À notre avis, le fait d’imposer des conditions qui ne sont pas prévues au Code pour le déverrouillage peut constituer certainement un problème de conformité. En fait, tant que le Conseil tolérera le verrouillage des appareils des consommateurs, aucune condition additionnelle qui restreint l’accès au déverrouillage ne devrait être acceptée. Par ailleurs, les consommateurs qui ont payé l’entièreté de leur appareil ne devraient jamais être contraints de payer des frais de déverrouillage. On se rappellera que le verrouillage demeure strictement une barrière à la mobilité et que le déverrouillage n'entraine pour le fournisseur, le cas échéant, que des couts qui n’ont aucune commune mesure avec les frais de déverrouillage qu'ils exigent.
3034 Autre mesure qui a fait l’objet de beaucoup de débats : la période d’essai. Nous avons pris connaissance de chiffres qui semblent a priori étonnants, au sujet des baisses de revenus qui pourraient être occasionnées à certains fournisseurs par la reprise des appareils et leur revente comme appareils usagés. Nous nous demandons si ces pertes sont vraiment uniquement occasionnées par l’offre d’une période d’essai. D’autres circonstances peuvent justifier la reprise d’un appareil, notamment une défectuosité qui serait couverte par une garantie, qu’il s’agisse d’une garantie prolongée, du fabricant, ou une garantie légale.
3035 Il nous parait étonnant que la période d’essai puisse occasionner des pertes importantes, puisqu’elle ne nous semble pas suffisamment publicisée auprès des consommateurs. Les données de nos recherches, les données issues de nos consultations auprès de nos membres, et les données de l’enquête terrain des professeurs Pavlović, Cavanagh, Grassie et Hamilton, en plus des données et commentaires du CPRST, semblent tous indiquer que les probabilités que les consommateurs prennent connaissance de la période d’essai et de ses limites en temps opportun, que le contrat soit conclu en personne ou à distance, sont faibles. Ainsi, pour permettre au Code d’atteindre encore mieux l’un de ses buts, il convient d’assurer que les renseignements sur la période d’essai se trouvent dans le résumé des renseignements essentiels et fassent l’objet d’une divulgation explicite lors de la conclusion du contrat.
3036 Concernant les limites d’usage à la période d’essai, elles sont, à notre avis, dans la majorité des cas, beaucoup trop basses. Nous continuons de penser que la limite devrait être fixée en fonction d’un usage raisonnable que le consommateur ferait de son forfait – la moitié des limites prévues au forfait, par exemple, si la période d’essai est de quinze jours. Nous sommes aussi en accord avec la suggestion de la Coalition de hausser le seuil à 30 jours, notamment pour régler le problème dénoncé par le CPRST, qu’un consommateur ayant conclu un contrat à distance pourrait ne pas recevoir son contrat avant la fin de la période d’essai. Une situation qui devrait à tout prix être évitée.
3037 Concernant les balises acceptables pour les services illimités, nous sommes sensibles aux préoccupations de l’industrie. Il serait difficile selon notre formule de diviser un service illimité. Nous sommes ouverts à ce que les limites soient, dans ces cas, plafonnées à un seuil raisonnable, en tenant compte, par exemple, de l’usage moyen fait par les utilisateurs de sans-fil abonné à ce type de service.
3038 Les limitations aux nombres d’appareils qui peuvent être remboursés dans le cadre d’une période d’essai devraient être interdites. En revanche, si le dossier de la présente instance confirme des abus répandus, il pourrait être raisonnable de limiter le nombre de fois où un consommateur peut se prévaloir de ce droit au cours d’une année.
3039 Finalement, en aucun cas ne devrait être autorisée l’imposition de frais de restockage pour la reprise d’un appareil. Nous avons déjà constaté dans le cadre de notre étude terrain que l’usage du droit à la période d’essai ne se fait pas nécessairement à cout nul pour le consommateur. Il pourrait avoir eu à débourser notamment des frais pour la carte SIM, ou des frais pour le nombre de jours où le service aura été utilisé. Il serait certainement intéressant pour les consommateurs que le droit à la période d’essai garantisse l’absence de cout. Mais, le plus important, à notre avis, reste toutefois d’éviter les frais de résiliation et les pénalités, qui sont tous deux suffisants pour réduire la mobilité des clients. Par ailleurs, plusieurs commerces de détail acceptent actuellement de reprendre des appareils sans frais.
3040 Dans un autre ordre d’idée, un objectif clair du Code sur les services sans fil était de réduire les frais surprise facturés aux consommateurs. Le plafonnement des frais supplémentaires de données mobiles a permis de réduire la fréquence des frais surprise mirobolants. Or, plusieurs problèmes se sont présentés dans son application. Nous craignons que les frais imprévus connaissent un nouvel essor, si le Conseil devait accepter que tous les usagers d’un forfait partagé puissent acquiescer à la facturation de frais supplémentaires, même s’ils ne sont pas les titulaires du compte. Plusieurs fournisseurs ont adopté des approches conformes à l’obligation prescrite au Code, en avisant par exemple l’usager que le titulaire du compte doit autoriser l’usage supplémentaire. Le fait que le titulaire ait, ou non, lui-même un appareil n’a pas d’incidence sur la possibilité d’appliquer cette obligation. De plus, les plafonds de frais supplémentaires ne devraient pas être multipliés par le nombre d’usagers au compte. Si un consommateur souhaite bénéficier d’un plafond de données plus élevé, c’est à lui d’y voir. Le Code permet déjà que puisse être levé ce plafond à la demande expresse et en toute connaissance de cause du consommateur. Pour accommoder leurs clients, les fournisseurs pourraient certainement rendre disponible la configuration de ce plafond, comme le font déjà, d’ailleurs, certains membres de l’industrie – configuration qui pourrait aussi permettre de bloquer tous frais supplémentaires, comme le suggère la Coalition.
3041 Réitérons aussi que le consentement du consommateur de ne plus être protégé par le plafond de données doit être fait en toute connaissance de cause et au moment opportun, c’est-à-dire au moment où il va atteindre ce plafond. Il s’agit d’un élément important du service, et les fournisseurs ne devraient pas prendre la liberté d’écarter leurs obligations d’avis par un consentement préalable par initialisation au contrat. Quelques cas anecdotiques qui seraient importunés par les plafonds de données qui peuvent facilement être enlevés après coup ne justifient pas de priver une partie importante des consommateurs d’une protection nécessaire.
3042 Au sujet de l’administration du Code, nous réitérons, une fois de plus, que nous sommes satisfaits du travail du CPRST, qui applique adéquatement la clause qui prescrit qu’en cas d’ambiguïté, le Code doit être interprété à l’avantage du consommateur. Toutes les demandes de l’industrie qui auraient pour effet de diminuer les responsabilités ou la discrétion du Commissaire ou de forcer chacune de ses interprétations à une révision devraient être rejetées. Il convient que le CPRST fasse preuve de transparence quant à ses différentes interprétations. Ce qu’il fait au moyen des versions annotées du Code sur les services sans fil. Les acteurs du marché insatisfaits des interprétations du CPRST sont libres de déposer des requêtes en vertu des règles de pratique. À notre avis, le système d’interprétation du Code fonctionne adéquatement et le traitement des plaintes des consommateurs ne devrait pas être ralenti inutilement.
3043 Les consommateurs ont déjà retiré plusieurs bénéfices du Code sur les services sans fil. Des correctifs peuvent y être apportés pour clarifier certaines ambiguïtés et continuer à assainir les pratiques du marché et pour faciliter le travail du CPRST, mais, à notre avis, le prochain pas que devrait faire le Conseil est celui d’assurer la conformité au Code sur les services sans fil. En effet, même si le Commissaire fait un bon travail d’administration, sa gestion individuelle des cas ne garantit pas que les nombreux consommateurs qui sont victimes d’une situation de non-conformité bénéficieront de l’interprétation du CPRST. Ce n’est que par l’entremise d’enquêtes et d’interventions visant les problèmes systémiques du marché qu’on peut y arriver.
3044 Pour cette raison, nous recommandons au Conseil d’allouer des ressources à la réalisation d’enquêtes terrain qui lui permettront de prendre le pouls de l’état de la conformité et d’intervenir promptement dans le meilleur intérêt des consommateurs. Nos enquêtes terrain et celles d’autres intervenants justifient amplement à notre avis des vérifications supplémentaires sur le terrain pour obtenir un portrait de la situation plus global, exhaustif, et à jour. Ces efforts devraient être faits en continu pour les années à venir. Le Conseil pourrait également tenir des consultations directement avec les consommateurs pour évaluer leurs besoins en vue d’assurer que les contrats soient véritablement clairs, et ce, même pour ceux qui ne sont pas les plus érudits. Dans tous les cas, les questionnaires d’autoévaluation ne permettent pas d’avoir l’heure la plus juste, ni sur l’état de conformité du marché ni sur le degré de connaissance et de compréhension des consommateurs de leurs droits et de leurs recours.
3045 En somme, faut-il aujourd’hui repenser nos manières de faire, et être plus souple pour éviter de nuire aux innovations technologiques et à la libre concurrence? À notre avis, oui et non. La souplesse peut être acceptable jusqu’à un certain point, mais le fait d’invoquer l’innovation technologique ne devrait pas être la potion miracle qui fait disparaitre toute règlementation. La palette de services offerts sur le marché n’indique pas nécessairement qu’il faut être plus permissif, mais plutôt qu’il faut être souple dans notre exercice de protection des consommateurs : en protégeant et en appliquant l’esprit et les principes du Code, qui restent d’actualité, malgré les innovations technologiques. Nous ne suggérons en effet que peu de changements au Code. Dans la majorité des cas, c’est davantage l’interprétation du Code, plutôt que son esprit, qu’il faut clarifier. L’information qui doit être transmise au consommateur et les droits qui doivent lui être accordés peuvent l’être de multiples façons. Cependant, aucune innovation en matière de service ou de technologie ne peut justifier de passe-droit à des mesures de protection qui ont été attentivement réfléchies. Il revient à l’industrie de trouver les manières d’innover en respectant les règles du jeu. Il revient aussi maintenant aux autorités compétentes de donner à tout le moins un coup de sifflet lorsque les règles ne sont pas respectées.
3046 Merci de votre attention. Je suis maintenant disponible pour répondre à vos questions.
3047 LE PRÉSIDENT: Merci pour votre présentation et merci d’être présente en personne. Je sais que ç’a pas été facile probablement de vous déplacer nonobstant la tempête hivernale hier soir et ce matin.
3048 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: C’est bon. Merci.
3049 LE PRÉSIDENT: On apprécie beaucoup votre présence ici ce matin.
3050 Vous évoquez l’historique de la Loi sur la protection du consommateur. Ça m’a fait penser à un ancien prof que j’ai eu le privilège d’avoir à l’Université McGill, Bill Tetley, qui était le père comme ministre de la Loi sur la protection des consommateurs, et ensuite il était associé avec Martineau Walker… Fasken Martineau Walker qui était aussi un cabinet où j’ai commencé à pratiquer.
3051 Mais lorsque vous parliez de la philosophie sous-jacente à des mesures qui cherchent à protéger ou aider les consommateurs, je me demandais s’il n’y aurait pas lieu d’avoir une clause d’interprétation un petit peu plus riche dans le Code. À l’heure actuelle, vous avez mentionné qu’on doit interpréter le Code d’une façon à favoriser, en cas de doute, en faveur des consommateurs. Ce qu’on a vu depuis trois ans, certains diront, c’est un genre de jeu de chat et de souris, un règlement qui est mis en place ou un genre de disposition, puis on trouve toutes sortes de façons de contourner, parfois tout à fait appropriées, mais là, il faut… on se retrouve dans une situation aujourd'hui à vouloir… à pallier peut-être à des abus qui n’étaient pas tout à fait clairs. Et je me demandais : est-ce que vous pensez que ça serait avantageux, en bâtissant sur la clause qui est déjà là, de mettre un genre de déclaration ou de charpente philosophique qui aiderait à mener l’interprétation et l’application, surtout pour et par les fournisseurs, pendant les trois à cinq prochaines années?
3052 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: La dernière partie de votre question est intéressante parce que, à mon avis – puis on l’a indiqué dans nos observations dans notre présentation –, l’interprétation que fait du CPRST le Code est tout à fait avantageuse pour les consommateurs et semble bien occuper cette clause-là, qui est conforme aussi à l’esprit des lois de protection du consommateur que la personne qu’on veut protéger avec ces règles-là, c’est pas nécessairement le consommateur moyennement informé, moyennement vigilant, qui est capable de prendre facilement des décisions éclairées, mais le consommateur le plus vulnérable, qui est plus… qui est moins expérimenté, qui a peut-être des difficultés de littéracie, qui est à faible revenu, qui a de la difficulté à s’informer. C’est souvent à ce type de consommateur là qu’il faut penser, au plus vulnérable, dans l’interprétation de ce genre de règlementation.
3053 Si la manière d’élargir cette clause d’interprétation là voudrait dire que les protections qui sont garanties au consommateur sont amoindries, par exemple que dans certains cas on ne traiterait pas toujours le cas dans l’avantage du consommateur en cas d’ambiguïté, là, ça serait peut-être moins avantageux pour les plus vulnérables qu’on souhaite protéger, mais si cette clause d’interprétation là s’appliquerait plus directement à l’industrie, ça serait intéressant parce que c’est justement ce qu’on a constaté dans notre recherche. Dans différentes recherches qu’on a faites, en fait, c’est que le CPRST fait, certes, un bon travail d’interprétation. Les fournisseurs n’ont pas l’air d’appliquer cette clause-là quand ils font eux-mêmes… quand ils bâtissent leurs services ou leurs contrats. Donc, si des instructions qui sont ciblées à eux directement pour les aider à mieux comprendre ce qui est à l’avantage des consommateurs, ça pourrait être avantageux, effectivement.
3054 LE PRÉSIDENT: La clause interprétative à l’heure actuelle est dans la politique du Conseil, mais n’est pas dans le Code.
3055 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui.
3056 LE PRÉSIDENT: À votre avis, est-ce que la règle d’interprétation devrait se retrouver dans le Code? Comme norme?
3057 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Ça pourrait.
3058 LE PRÉSIDENT: Parce que quand c’est normatif, ç’a plus de force, n'est-ce pas?
3059 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Tout à fait. Si ça peut effectivement encourager l’industrie à se conformer davantage à cette clause-là, oui, tout à fait, ça serait une très bonne idée de le mettre au Code.
3060 LE PRÉSIDENT: Croyez-vous que le Code bénéficierait en plus d’un genre de préambule qui cadrerait la structure philosophique et l’approche de l’interprétation et de la mise en vigueur du Code en faveur des consommateurs?
3061 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Donc là, on ne parle plus seulement d’une clause…
3062 LE PRÉSIDENT: Au-delà de la clause.
3063 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: …ensachée mais d’un genre de préambule. Ben, comme je vous dis en fait, ma réponse reste sans doute similaire à la question précédente : si ça peut permettre à l’industrie de mieux comprendre qu’est-ce qui est à l’avantage du consommateur dans les différentes circonstances, c’est un peu faire cet examen-là article par article. Puis là, je prends un exemple. On parlait hier, par exemple, des plafonds de frais supplémentaires qu’un fournisseur disait : 50 $, c’est pas assez, les fournisseurs… les consommateurs vont être importunés puis accepter le plafond de frais, puis ils vont se retrouver avec une situation de factures surprise qui n’est pas avantageuse pour eux. Je trouve ça drôle en fait parce que, nous, ce qu’on entend, c’est que les consommateurs n’aiment pas les frais supplémentaires. À partir du moment qu’ils sont au courant qu’ils commencent à se faire facturer des frais supplémentaires, souvent, ils vont arrêter d’utiliser le service. C’est peut-être lié au type de consommateurs qu’on voit dans le cadre de notre mission, peut-être des consommateurs plus vulnérables, pas nécessairement des clients de forfaits corporatifs ou des familles aisées, donc c’est des… on voit des gens qui sont plus dans le besoin, puis pour eux, 50 $, c’est déjà un enjeu.
3064 Quand on regarde les forfaits moyens qui sont utilisés au Québec, c’est rarement au-dessus de 50 $ par mois. Nous, ce qu’on voit auprès de nos associations membres, c’est que les marques, les sous-marques plus économiques des principaux fournisseurs sont très utilisées. Y’a des gens qui dépendent… qui n’ont pas un budget énorme à consacrer à ces services-là, donc ce type de plafond là, à notre avis, à 50 $, est encore pertinent pour une partie importante… en fait, pour l’ensemble des consommateurs vulnérables, et si on pouvait, par exemple, pour différents articles où il y a ambiguïté, offrir des précisions sur comment l’interpréter pour servir le consommateur vulnérable, ça pourrait être intéressant, en effet.
3065 LE PRÉSIDENT: Oui. Je vais y arriver plus tard là… puis j’ai bien lu votre position sur différentes dispositions spécifiques, mais je reviens à la notion peut-être que le Code a besoin d’un préambule philosophique ou…
3066 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui.
3067 LE PRÉSIDENT: …des objectifs qu’on tente d’atteindre, puis je me demandais si vous pourriez vous engager de nous fournir une ébauche…
3068 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui.
3069 LE PRÉSIDENT: …de ce genre. Peut-être vous pouvez travailler même avec les gens de la Coalition. Je sais que vous avez, comme groupe de consommateurs, vous avez pas des équipes de 27 avocats comme les fournisseurs…
3070 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: En effet.
3071 LE PRÉSIDENT: …de services, mais vous pourriez quand même tirer avantage d’un partenariat avec les autres groupes de consommateurs pour proposer une approche philosophique des… comme on dit en anglais, les outcomes ou les objectifs qu’on tente de tenir et qui devient, dans ce cas-là, une façon d’encadrer le comportement de tous et chacun pour qu’on évite ce qui semble avoir développé un genre de course de chat et souris parce que, dans chaque dix mots, il semble y avoir un aspect échappatoire.
3072 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui, tout à fait.
3073 LE PRÉSIDENT: Oui?
3074 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: On peut s’engager à fournir.
3075 LE PRÉSIDENT: Pour le 16 février?%
3076 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui.
3077 LE PRÉSIDENT: Oui? Merci.
3079 LE PRÉSIDENT: Dans votre présentation, vous avez mentionné, parce que j’étais pour aborder la question des services payés à l’avance par rapport aux services postpayés, vous dites au paragraphe 16 que le fait… « la majorité des fournisseurs exige désormais le paiement un mois à l’avance, même pour des services postpayés ».
3080 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui.
3081 LE PRÉSIDENT: Est-ce que vous pensez à des fournisseurs en particulier?
3082 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: En fait, on a vu des plaintes qui avaient été déposées au CRTC à ce sujet-là. On s’est mis à faire un exercice de quels fournisseurs le font. La liste exhaustive aujourd'hui, je serais un peu mal à l’aise de la fournir, mais c’est vraiment la majorité des principaux fournisseurs.
3083 LE PRÉSIDENT: OK. Mais peut-être vous pouvez…pouvez-vous faire un engagement, juste pour étoffer votre…
3084 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui, tout à fait.
3085 LE PRÉSIDENT: …pour dire exactement qui le fait?
3087 LE PRÉSIDENT: Et, en présumant qu’effectivement y’a des… je sais pas si c’est la majorité, mais y’en a quand même plus qu’un, selon vos dires, qui le font, est-ce que la distinction entre les contrats prépayés et postpayés est en train de disparaitre?
3088 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Tout à fait.
3089 LE PRÉSIDENT: Et est-ce que, suite à ça, ne devrait-on pas dans le cadre du Code cesser de faire la distinction? Si y’a un contrat, un plan qui dure plus qu’un mois, le Code s’appliquerait sans distinction?
3090 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: On est tout à fait d’accord avec le fait que la différence entre les services prépayés et postpayés est vraiment en train de se résorber. On avait fait une recherche aussi sur les services prépayés et, en fait, c’est heureux qu’on ait pu vraiment comparer comment sont appliquées les protections aux services postpayés et prépayés parce que, si y’a des problèmes de clarté avec les services postpayés, pour le prépayé, c’est le fouillis total. Des fois, on a des services qui sont à peine plus simples que les services postpayés dans la mesure où il n’y a pas d’appareils qui sont consentis dans le cadre du contrat, mais pour le reste, ça peut être essentiellement la même chose : on choisit un forfait mensuel avec une limite de minutes, une limite de données, une limite de messages textes, ou certains services illimités qui peuvent… qui vont être bons pour 30 jours, et on peut en fait prévoir des soldes qui peuvent durer jusqu’à un an.
3091 Il me semble que dans la major… en tout cas, dans plusieurs cas, les services prépayés ressemblent beaucoup dans leur nature aux services postpayés. Je vous dirais que, pour le consommateur moyen, la seule différence qu’il va voir, c’est peut-être le fait de… en fait, peut-être deux différences. Il doit rajouter des crédits au fur et à mesure, des crédits prépayés, et il y a… et, encore là, cette différence-là tend à se résorber parce que certains vont choisir de faire des prélèvements automatiques sur leur carte de crédit, donc, dans ce cas-là, le paiement va être relativement le même, mais sinon, où je voulais m’en venir, c’est que la différence pour le consommateur moyen, souvent, c’est que les services prépayés sont moins avantageux : sur le plan des tarifs, on fournit pas de contrat; le service à la clientèle, on a cru remarquer qu’il est moins bon, comme si le personnel était moins habitué d’offrir des services prépayés aux clients.
3092 Donc, dans ces circonstances-là, et compte tenu que les services prépayés sont vraiment les services de derniers recours pour les consommateurs qui avaient eu des problèmes de crédit, il serait juste que les protections équivalentes aux services prépayés… postpayés, en fait, soient appliquées à l’ensemble de ces services-là.
3093 LE PRÉSIDENT: Au minimum, est-ce qu’il devrait y avoir un résumé des renseignements essentiels dans une situation d’un plan prépayé?
3094 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Tout à fait. Ce qu’on a remarqué dans le cadre de notre étude terrain, c’est que, même dans des… et les services prépayés ont très peu de protections là, si je me rappelle par exemple l’article P-2, en fait, c’est que… le problème, c’est qu’on demande… le fournisseur peut donner certains renseignements, mais on ne dit pas clairement par quel moyen. Ce qui arrive… ce qui se passe souvent, c’est que, bon, le consommateur peut être informé au sujet du solde de son utilisation, mais pas systématiquement. Il va peut-être recevoir un texte après avoir été acheter ses crédits prépayés – pas nécessairement. Il peut le voir dans ses modalités d’utilisation qui peuvent traiter aussi des services postpayés, donc c’est pas facile de trouver les renseignements. Et, dans plusieurs cas en fait, les fournisseurs ne donnaient pas systématiquement tous les renseignements qui sont requis au Code.
3095 Donc, on dirait que le fait que, contrairement aux services prépayés, on n’a pas à regrouper toutes les informations dans un même document, ça pose vraiment problème pour le niveau d’information que les consommateurs peuvent avoir à ce sujet-là. En fait, la seule situation où on a vu que les consommateurs peuvent être adéquatement informés, c’est s’ils sont vigilants et qu’ils posent les questions. Parce que quand on faisait notre enquête terrain pour avoir, par exemple, des renseignements sur l’expiration des crédits prépayés ou comment vérifier son solde, souvent, la méthode la plus facile, c’était de poser la question au fournisseur. Mais pour quelqu’un qui ne sait pas exactement comment ça fonctionne, qui est encore nouveau à comprendre ce type de services là, qui va pas nécessairement poser les questions, il n’aura peut-être pas les renseignements avant que ses services prépayés expirent.
3096 Donc nous, ce qu’on recommandait dans le cadre de cette recherche-là, c’est que ce soit un contrat de la même manière que les services postpayés, ce qui permettrait aussi aux clients de prépayés d’avoir en mains les modalités de services, même si, ironiquement, pour les services postpayés, c’est aussi un problème, mais bon, sur le plan théorique, on pourrait régler ce problème-là. Puis c’est sûr que, subsidiairement, le résumé des renseignements essentiels serait déjà un bon… un bon minimum là, au moins pour regrouper plusieurs renseignements importants qu’on a au Code, incluant les renseignements sur le forfait choisi par le client, la manière de gérer son solde, les renseignements sur l’expiration, et cetera.
3097 LE PRÉSIDENT: D’accord. On a discuté jusqu’à maintenant lors de l’audience du fait que y’a une émergence de plans avec plusieurs utilisateurs sur le même plan. Est-ce que j’ai raison de croire que vous êtes d’avis que les limites d’utilisation de données devraient être appliquées par compte plutôt que par ligne?
3098 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui.
3099 LE PRÉSIDENT: C'est-à-dire que si y’a cinq utilisateurs, ça devrait être… dans le cas du 50 $, ça devrait être 50 $ et non pas 250 $?
3100 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Ah, tout à fait. Et comme je disais plus tôt, y’a différents types de consommateurs. Y’a beaucoup de consommateurs vulnérables. C’est sûr que, souvent, ces forfaits partagés là, mon impression du marché, c’est qu’ils sont utilisés peut-être par des familles un peu plus aisées qui ont les moyens de donner des cellulaires à tous leurs enfants et de pouvoir les joindre plus facilement. C’est pas la réalité de tous les ménages, mais je pense néanmoins que plusieurs consommateurs à revenu modeste pourraient utiliser ce genre de service là et être défavorisés par le fait qu’on prévoit un plafond de 50 $ par utilisateur. D’autant plus que le consentement des utilisateurs – on en a parlé plus tôt cette semaine –, si c’est des enfants, bon, il faudrait évaluer… il faudrait au moins que le parent ait son mot à dire sur est-ce que cette personne-là au compte peut donner son consentement ou pas.
3101 À notre avis, donc, le plafond à 250 $ n’est pas du tout acceptable et ça devrait par défaut être le titulaire du… au titulaire du compte de gérer les limites de données supplémentaires.
3102 LE PRÉSIDENT: Et est-ce que les clients devraient être avisés lorsque les plafonds arrivent à 95 % ou à 100 %?
3103 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Em…
3104 LE PRÉSIDENT: Vous allez dire les deux, peut-être, je le sais pas, mais…
3105 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Les deux….
3106 LE PRÉSIDENT: …c’est un ou l’autre.
3107 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: À 5 % de différence, je suis pas si certaine que ça soit si important. L’important, c’est que le consommateur soit avisé, qu’il ait les outils pour gérer son utilisation. C’est sûr que – et là, encore une fois, c’est une constatation sur ce qui se fait sur le marché –, il peut arriver que ce type d’avis que les fournisseurs envoient déjà de bonne foi aux consommateurs à différents seuils, selon les entreprises, sont pas toujours 100 % à jour. Par exemple, une personne qui fait beaucoup… qui écoute beaucoup de musique ou qui regarde beaucoup de vidéos une journée, peut recevoir un texte le lendemain qu’il est rendu à 50 % de son utilisation ou 75, mais au moment où il reçoit le texte, ça va être déjà rendu beaucoup plus loin dans son utilisation.
3108 Donc, 100 %, peut-être pas, il va peut-être être trop tard quand la personne va recevoir cet avis-là, donc peut-être un petit peu avant, mais il reste qu’en principe, il faut que les gens soient avisés et reçoivent des avis.
3109 LE PRÉSIDENT: Et qui devrait avoir le pouvoir de consentir aux frais excédentaires? Y’a eu une discussion, y’a plusieurs modèles. Quel serait à votre avis le meilleur modèle? On nous indique que certains permettent à tout le monde sur le compte de consentir par défaut et l’utilisateur… le détenteur du compte pourrait limiter, et d’autres fournisseurs disent non, non, au début, c’est le détenteur du compte, et seulement par la suite que ce détenteur-là pourrait permettre un deuxième utilisateur d’avoir le pouvoir de consentement.
3110 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Bien, il va de soi que la deuxième approche est beaucoup plus intéressante et respecte beaucoup plus l’esprit du Code. Si un titulaire… en tout cas, le titulaire du compte, s’il constate que, bon, ça peut arriver occasionnellement qu’on dépasse la limite de données, le 50 $ de frais supplémentaires, s’il souhaite autoriser certaines personnes, c’est à lui de voir, c’est lui le payeur. Dans la mesure où maintenant y’a des séminaires qui sont donnés à des jeunes et que, bon, quand on regarde la manière dont les contrats sont traités avec les mineurs dans la législation provinciale, y’a beaucoup la question de maturité et de discernement qui vient avec ça, c’est difficile de déterminer à partir de quel âge un utilisateur va être capable de prendre la décision et…
3111 LE PRÉSIDENT: Oui. Mais le deuxième modèle permettrait aux parents dans chaque foyer de décider.
3112 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui. Oui, ça va de soi, mais je me posais même la question en voyant les discussions plus tôt cette semaine s’il ne pourrait pas y avoir des directives ou des instructions au titulaire du compte, par exemple de le mettre en garde contre le fait de donner cette autorisation-là à des enfants trop… qui seraient en jeune âge évidemment, c’est un peu du gros bon sens. Souvent, les parents vont pouvoir juger par eux-mêmes dans quelle situation c’est préférable, mais, bon, il faut réfléchir à… ça peut être effectivement au titulaire du compte de décider là.
3113 LE PRÉSIDENT: Nous avons entendu diverses pratiques d’affaires par rapport à la façon de donner l’autorisation. Effectivement, y’en a qui semble exiger seulement un texto ou une communication par courriel qui pourrait venir de l’appareil lui-même, mais hier, Vidéotron nous ont dit que, non, dans leur cas, pour protéger les intérêts du consommateur et le détenteur du compte, il faut aller sur l’espace client fournir un mot de passe – parce que pour aller sur l’espace client, il faut… de Vidéotron, faut le faire par l’entremise, donc y’a plus d’authentification, plus de mesures de sécurité pour s’assurer que la personne qui donne l’autorisation est bel et bien… est bel et bien la personne qui est le détenteur du compte, et donc, qui détient les mots de passe.
3114 Considérez-vous que cette pratique-là est une pratique qui protège bien les intérêts des consommateurs?
3115 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: C’est sûr que ce type de pratique là peut être intéressante. Puis dans le cadre de la recherche qu’on a faite sur des sujets qui sont pas exactement les mêmes, mais, par exemple, sur les achats intégrés des applications mobiles, un des éléments qu’on recommandait, c’était vraiment justement ce genre de dispositif de sécurité et qu’on demande le mot de passe avant, par exemple, de procéder à des transactions. Donc, plus le niveau de sécurité est élevé, effectivement, plus ça permet de protéger contre les frais supplémentaires.
3116 Effectivement, c’est un genre de pratique qui est intéressante dans la mesure où on s’assure que, dès le début du contrat, le consommateur doit avoir accès à ce plafond-là et qu’il n’a pas à se connecter pour l’activer par exemple.
3117 LE PRÉSIDENT: Certains consommateurs pourraient trouver ça un peu lourd, par contre, d’avoir à aller sur un site Web, de donner son mot de passe, de le faire peut-être même lorsqu’ils sont à l’étranger. Est-ce que… je reviens à votre philosophie dans votre présentation, oui, c’est peut-être un plus grand fardeau, mais, dans l’ensemble, c’est peut-être plus à l’avantage des consommateurs?
3118 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Bien, ça a l’avantage pour éviter les frais surprise. Le Code indique que les consommateurs sont libres de ne pas… de ne plus avoir ce plafond de données supplémentaires là, donc ils sont pas…
3119 LE PRÉSIDENT: Donc, c’est eux qui…
3120 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: …enchainés.
3121 LE PRÉSIDENT: Donc, c’est eux qui seraient… ça serait à leurs risques s’ils décidaient de ne pas se… de ne pas se prévaloir d’une authentification plus sécuritaire.
3122 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Ben, c’est sûr qu’ils pourraient être « convivials » et je… honnêtement, cette partie de la présentation là, je ne l’ai pas vue, donc je ne sais pas exactement qu’est-ce qu’on demandait aux consommateurs, mais si on demande plusieurs mots de passe ou que l’authentification peut être difficile même pour le titulaire du compte, c’est sûr qu’il faut équilibrer un peu le niveau de sécurité. Souvent, quand les…
3123 LE PRÉSIDENT: Mm. Ça me semble être le genre d’authentification qui ressemblait à ce qu’on demande, mettons, sur le Apple Store.
3124 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Ben, ce genre d’authentification là peut être avantageuse, effectivement, pour éviter que des personnes qui ne seraient pas autorisées arrivent à accepter les frais supplémentaires.
3125 LE PRÉSIDENT: Lorsque y’a un compte multi-utilisateur, à qui est-ce que les avis devraient être envoyés? Je comprends bien que la personne qui doit l’autoriser par défaut devrait être le détenteur du compte, mais est-ce que vous croyez que y’a un bénéfice d’envoyer les avis à tous les utilisateurs du compte?
3126 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui. Dans la mesure où… bon, on a le cas hypothétique où on a une famille qui utilise tous le même plan de données, si une personne est responsable d’atteindre le plafond, ça peut être intéressant que les autres comprennent pourquoi l’accès aux données a été interrompu. C’est sûr que le plus important, c’est que le titulaire du compte, dans la mesure du possible, soit informé. C’est sûr que si la personne qui paye n’a pas d’appareil, bon, ça peut être plus compliqué de l’informer, mais dans la mesure où c’est elle qui autorise les frais supplémentaires par la suite, ça serait une pratique qui serait conforme au Code.
3127 LE PRÉSIDENT: Est-ce que vous avez – et peut-être que vous en n’avez pas – de point de vue, étant donné la mission de Option consommateurs, par rapport aux mêmes considérations de plans multi-utilisateur lorsqu’on est dans le contexte d’une petite entreprise?
3128 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Évidemment, on n’a pas de point de vue de développé là-dessus, mais à brûle-pourpoint comme ça, il va de soi que ce ne sont pas toutes les entreprises qui sont à ce point fortunées. Je peux voir certains cas, par exemple, où des travailleurs autonomes, des très petites entreprises pourraient bénéficier des protections qui s’appliquent aux consommateurs. Donc, ça dépend vraiment. Pour les grandes entreprises, je n’aurais pas de point de vue à donner là-dessus, mais dans plusieurs cas, à mon avis, les protections qui sont au Code peuvent être avantageuses aussi pour les clients d’entreprises.
3129 LE PRÉSIDENT: Dans le dossier public, y’a certains joueurs et intervenants pour des… qui ont fait valoir les limites pour les frais d’utilisation excédentaire devraient être réduites à la baisse, même à zéro dollar. Est-ce que vous trouvez que les plafonds actuels à 50 et 100 sont satisfaisants?
3130 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Comme je disais plus tôt, y’a plusieurs consommateurs qui aimeraient ne jamais avoir de frais supplémentaires. Un 10 $ de frais supplémentaires, c’est pas beaucoup, mais ils aiment pas ça. 25 $, ils aiment encore moins ça; 50 $, ils n’aimeront pas ça. C’est sûr que, nous, quand on avait pensé à ce plafond-là dans le cadre de l’élaboration du Code, c’était vraiment pour éviter les chocs spectaculaires qu’on voyait, par exemple des frais d’itinérance à 10 000 $ ou même des factures de 1 000 ou 500 $. Peut-être que ça serait effectivement la prochaine étape que le consommateur puisse ne pas recevoir de frais d’utilisation supplémentaires. Effectivement, ça serait très intéressant pour plusieurs consommateurs vulnérables.
3131 LE PRÉSIDENT: Nous avons vu que, parfois, en parlant de surprise, que y’a certains consommateurs qui réagissent parce qu’ils ont des frais d’itinérance vocale et, effectivement, le régime ne s’applique qu’à des données. Croyez-vous que le Code devrait être plus clair en ce qui a trait aux frais d’itinérance vocale?
3132 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui. Depuis l’entrée en vigueur du Code… donc nous, on reçoit sporadiquement des cas de consommateurs. De la manière qu’on fonctionne, c’est nos membres qui reçoivent la plupart des cas de première ligne, et les cas les plus problématiques nous sont référés. Avant l’entrée en vigueur du Code, on avait eu plusieurs fois des plaintes en lien avec les frais de données supplémentaires. Après l’entrée en vigueur, ç’a complètement disparu, mais on a eu quelques cas effectivement de frais d’itinérance de voix.
3133 LE PRÉSIDENT: Mais les fournisseurs nous disent que, lorsqu’un consommateur arrive dans un pays étranger, on lui envoie déjà de l’information sur les frais par minute que, contrairement aux données, on pense que les gens comprennent plus ce qu’est une minute de temps – et donc, une minute, c’est 1,75 $, 2 $, ou quelque chose dans le genre –, et, en plus ,les fournisseurs nous disent qu’en vertu de leurs ententes d’interconnexions, parfois, eux, ils ne savent même pas quelle sera la facture ultime de l’utilisation, et donc, ils ne veulent pas avoir des plafonds parce qu’ils ne veulent pas gérer le risque.
3134 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Bon, c’est sûr qu’on peut pas vraiment remettre en question ce qu’ils disent, mais à partir d’un certain moment, ils vont être au courant de l’utilisation du consommateur quand la facture va être produite – les frais d’itinérance sont fixés en fonction d’une utilisation particulière. Si, techniquement, bon, un consommateur qui n’était pas informé faisait des appels en itinérance, il avait une facture très élevée, je me questionne si d’autres mécanismes – par exemple, ce qui s’applique aux appels 1-900 – pourraient être appliqués, donc que le consommateur puisse annuler certains frais dans certaines circonstances.
3135 LE PRÉSIDENT: Je vais avoir plus de questions tout à l'heure sur le déverrouillage, mais si l’accès au déverrouillage était plus simple et qu’un consommateur pourrait échanger sa carte SIM dans son appareil lorsqu’ils sont en déplacement à l’étranger, on n’éviterait pas tout le problème des frais d’itinérance? Parce que le consommateur pourrait, au lieu d’être en itinérance avec son fournisseur canadien, pourrait tout simplement avec une entente directe avec le fournisseur local?
3136 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Ça faciliterait beaucoup la chose. C’est sûr que sur la question des frais d’itinérance, il reste toujours de l’éducation à faire parce que souvent la personne va être exposée à ce problème-là seulement quand elle va à l’étranger; donc, à son premier voyage, elle ne sera peut-être pas au courant. Donc, peut-être un travail d’éducation à faire. Mais, oui, si les appareils étaient déverrouillés par défaut ou que le déverrouillage pouvait être fait sans frais, en tout cas si l’accès au déverrouillage était plus facile, c’est certain que ça réduirait une partie des problèmes.
3137 LE PRÉSIDENT: En ce qui a trait aux périodes d’essai, vous mentionnez dans votre présentation – puis j’ai plusieurs questions, mais sur un point en particulier – que parfois le consommateur n’est pas au courant de cette période de 15 jours minimale – je note qu’hier Vidéotron a fait valoir que, eux, ils offrent en fait 30 jours –, mais qu’ils ne sont pas au courant de ce droit parce qu’on n’en fait pas beaucoup mention lors de l’achat – mettons que c’était en boutique ou peut-être même à distance. Est-ce que la période de 15 jours devrait débuter seulement lorsque le fournisseur de service peut démontrer que le contrat a été fourni?
3138 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Bien, ça serait pertinent, en effet. Ça règlerait notamment nos problèmes qui avaient été mentionnés par le CPRST, par exemple que si le consommateur prend un certain temps à recevoir son contrat s’il a été conclu à distance, bien, si, à partir de ce moment-là, le 15 jours s’applique, ça peut être intéressant, mais il faut penser aussi aux frais d’utilisation en parallèle. Si la limite est de 30 minutes ou de 50 textos et que la personne reçoit son contrat après 10 jours, même si elle a 15 jours…
3139 LE PRÉSIDENT: J’étais pour arriver à cette question-là de façon subséquente. Est-ce que vous… parce que j’ai demandé et mes collègues ont demandé à chaque fournisseur qui a comparu jusqu’à maintenant, puis on veut continuer de le faire, est-ce que vous trouvez que les plafonds pour les textos, la voix et les données, tels qu’ils existent à l’heure actuelle dans le marché, sont raisonnables au sens du Code?
3140 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: C’est sûr qu’ils sont raisonnables en fonction de leurs intérêts.
3141 LE PRÉSIDENT: Non mais, vous représentez ici les consommateurs. Je comprends bien que faut que chacun défende leur propre paroisse là.
3142 À votre avis, est-ce qu’ils sont raisonnables?
3143 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Non.
3144 LE PRÉSIDENT: Qu’est-ce qui serait plus raisonnable?
3145 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Bien, en fait, comme on avait indiqué dans nos observations, il serait logique, compte tenu que le consommateur choisit un forfait spécifique dans le cadre de son contrat, que la limite d’essai… que la période d’essai, en fait, soit ajustée à ce forfait-là.
3146 LE PRÉSIDENT: Donc, si c’est un contrat de… à tous les mois, on a un 100… qu’on ait le droit à un certain montant de données, puisque 15 jours, c’est 50 % du mois, plus ou moins, ça devrait être 50 % de ce qui est prévu au contrat.
3147 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: C’est le calcul qu’on avait fait et ça permettrait, bon, aux fournisseurs d’éviter les usages peut-être un peu plus « abusifs » – entre guillemets –, donc de personnes qui utiliseraient beaucoup leur appareil dans cette période-là, mais, en même temps, dans la mesure où une personne qui utiliserait beaucoup son appareil, il ne sera peut-être plus à l’état presque neuf quand il va le rapporter, donc il va peut-être avoir une limitation de ce côté-là, mais, oui, ça serait un compromis raisonnable. Et, de toute façon, la période d’essai n’est pas faite pour être utilisée par tous les consommateurs; c’est fait pour que le consommateur teste son service, vérifie son contrat, vérifie son forfait, est-ce que tout est beau – s’il est satisfait, il peut se prévaloir de cette période d’essai là. Et d’ailleurs, la période d’essai, c’est un outil qui peut être utilisé pour les fournisseurs, quand le consommateur revient, pour lui proposer autre chose : un forfait qui correspond davantage à ses besoins; si le problème, c’est pas le réseau; de voir si y’a pas un autre appareil qui pourrait correspondre à ses besoins. C’est un moment où le fournisseur peut utiliser cette opportunité-là pour retenir le consommateur et lui offrir quelque chose qui correspond davantage à ses besoins.
3148 Donc, dans cette mesure-là, oui, les fournisseurs peuvent l’utiliser dans certains cas à leur avantage ou, en général, ça va être l’exception que le fournisseur… que le consommateur ramène son appareil. Ça me semble raisonnable, en tout cas à notre avis, que les limites soient haussées minimalement à ce niveau-là.
3149 LE PRÉSIDENT: Qu’en est-il des cadeaux avec abonnement? Y’a certains fournisseurs qui aimeraient offrir des cadeaux au moment de l’abonnement et pouvoir le récupérer suite à l’utilisation de la période d’essai quand quelqu’un le retourne. Quelle est la position d’Option consommateurs?
3150 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: D’Union des consommateurs?
3151 LE PRÉSIDENT: Pardon.
3152 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Excusez-moi.
3153 LE PRÉSIDENT: Oui, votre opinion. Oui…
3154 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui. Bien, en fait…
3155 LE PRÉSIDENT: …d’Option cons… l’opinion d’Option consommateurs, oui.
3156 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui, y’a beaucoup de confusion, ça arrive souvent.
3157 Mais… bien, en fait, si c’est un bien tangible – je pense, par exemple, qu’un fournisseur parlait de haut-parleurs, bon, c’est sûr que ça a une valeur précise, c’est un appareil qui peut être rapporté aussi facilement qu’un téléphone cellulaire – donc, oui, dans cette mesure-là. C’est sûr que c’est pas ce qui est le plus intéressant pour le consommateur, mais s’il rapporte son appareil, ça semble être de bonne guerre qu’il rapporte ce type de cadeau là. Par contre, il faudrait que ce soit mentionné par le fournisseur, sans doute à la conclusion du contrat, que, bon, y’a une période d’essai, « si vous êtes insatisfait, vous devez ramener votre appareil et le cadeau » pour que… éviter que le consommateur jette, par exemple, l’emballage – ou ce genre de situation.
3158 LE PRÉSIDENT: Donc, il devrait y avoir le fardeau sur le fournisseur, à votre avis? Que c’est au fournisseur de prouver que le consommateur était au courant et avait consenti explicitement à l’obligation de retourner le cadeau?
3159 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui. Oui, ça serait juste. Puis peut-être le seul élément que je rajouterais, c’est pour les cadeaux qui seraient – entre guillemets – « consommables » – par exemple, des cartes-cadeaux –, ça serait peut-être moins raisonnable dans ces circonstances-là de s’attendre à ce que le consommateur les rapporte inutilisés, surtout si, justement, l’information n’a pas été fournie à cet effet-là à la conclusion du contrat.
3160 LE PRÉSIDENT: En ce qui a trait aux frais de déverrouillage, comme vous savez, on s’est abstenu de réglementer les tarifs au détail dans le domaine du sans-fil en mesure depuis longtemps, ça veut pas dire qu’on ne pourrait pas re-réglementer, mais pour le moment, c’est déréglementé, donc la question du déverrouillage puis les frais ne se pose pas autant par rapport à une analyse traditionnelle de ces frais-là – c’est quoi les véritables couts pour l’entreprise et tout ça. La lentille qu’on utilise dans le cadre de cette instance, c’est plutôt : est-ce que ces frais de déverrouillage empêchent l’atteinte des objectifs de politique publique qui sont sous-jacents au Code, c'est-à-dire d’assurer un marché plus dynamique et plus concurrentiel.
3161 À la lumière de ça, est-ce que vous croyez que les frais de déverrouillage constituent un empêchement ou une barrière à la mobilité des consommateurs pour aller d’un fournisseur à l’autre à la fin de leur contrat?
3162 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: C’est certain que ce n’est pas avantageux. Je pense et je… je pense qu’encore, ça, c’est un secteur que, oui, les frais sont un problème, l’information aussi est un problème. J’ai vu, par exemple en boutique, souvent des consommateurs par exemple qui changeaient de fournisseur et s’attendaient à changer d’appareil, et c’est le fournisseur de bonne foi – bravo au fournisseur – qui avait dit au consommateur : « Est-ce que vous avez déjà un appareil? Vous pouvez le déverrouiller. Voyez avec votre ancien fournisseur si c’est possible. » Donc, pour beaucoup de personnes, il semble être acquis… en tout cas, du moins, c’est en train de changer, mais peut-être pas encore pour tout le monde, il semble être acquis que quand on change de fournisseur, on change d’appareil. Ça, c’est vraiment une grave barrière à la mobilité. Donc, oui, en fait, c’est la prat…
3163 LE PRÉSIDENT: Or, ces bidules qui coutent parfois 1 000 $ devraient être capables d’être transférables, non?
3164 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui. Ben… oui, ça va de soi. Ça devrait être clair au consommateur. D’ailleurs, quand on regarde les résumés des renseignements essentiels, les frais de déverrouillage sont là – ça peut aider à les sensibiliser. Donc, y’a cette étape-là à faire, donc, qu’il faut que tout le monde comprenne que ces appareils-là sont transférables et il faut que ces appareils-là soient facilement transférables.
3165 Et il y a la question des frais quand on parle… habituellement, c’est le plus souvent minimum 50 $. Quand on pense que y’a des appareils bas de gamme qui sont 150 ou 200 $, parfois peut-être même 100 $, 50 $, c’est une grosse proportion par rapport à la valeur de l’appareil. Donc, est-ce que la personne qui a un revenu assez limité va vouloir payer encore plus de frais? Parce qu’en fait ça s’ajoute aux frais de résiliation, si la personne résilie avant la fin de son contrat. Il reste que, ultimement, la personne a acheté cet appareil-là, elle devrait légitimement pouvoir l’utiliser comme bon lui semble. Et, bon, c’est sûr que c’est une analogie, c’est peut-être pas une comparaison parfaite, mais si on achète une voiture et qu’on étale les paiements, ben, on nous dira pas où aller mettre de l’essence ou où aller la faire réparer, même si le financement est en cours. Pour les appareils, il pourrait y avoir une logique similaire dans la mesure où, à partir du moment où le consommateur est lié par un contrat et qu’il va devoir de toute façon le payer cet appareil-là, pourquoi on devrait lui faire subir les conséquences de ce verrouillage-là? C’est les fournisseurs qui décident d’imposer cette barrière-là physique dans le cadre du contrat, il me semble que ça serait logique que ce soit eux qui absorbent les couts de ce déverrouillage-là en fin de contrat ou lorsque la personne résilie.
3166 LE PRÉSIDENT: Donc, en tant qu’experte dans le domaine de la consommation – vous œuvrez dans le domaine depuis plusieurs années, vous faites ça à temps plein –, si le Conseil était porté à éliminer les frais de déverrouillage, que le téléphone soit subventionné ou non, à votre avis, basé sur votre expérience, est-ce qu’une telle mesure aurait pour effet de contribuer à un marché qui favorise plus de concurrence dynamique et la mobilité des consommateurs?
3167 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: C’est certain. La question ne se pose même pas. C’est un problème qu’on voit depuis plusieurs années qui cause de la frustration…
3168 LE PRÉSIDENT: Donc, votre réponse, c’est clairement oui.
3169 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Clairement oui. Ça permettrait aux consommateurs de changer beaucoup plus facilement de fournisseur. Donc, oui, ça serait avantageux pour les consommateurs, peu importe les circonstances. Ça permettrait d’éviter que ce soit rajouté aux frais de résiliation.
3170 Mais peut-être un point que je rajouterais…
3171 LE PRÉSIDENT: Non mais, mon hypothèse, c’était – je vous pose ça à propos des frais de résiliation – que dans toutes circonstances, y’aurait pas de frais de déverrouillage.
3172 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Ben, c’est certain que ça augmenterait… ça faciliterait la mobilité des consommateurs, ça va de soi.
3173 LE PRÉSIDENT: Et à l’avantage du marché plus concurrentiel et plus dynamique.
3174 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui. Dans la mesure où les frais pour mettre fin au contrat vont être encore plus bas, donc, oui, tout à fait, ça permettrait de dynamiser le marché.
3175 LE PRÉSIDENT: Comme hypothèse alternative, que pensez-vous de l’ajout des frais de déverrouillage dans la formule existante là dans le Code ou un modèle semblable pour calculer les frais de résiliation anticipée?
3176 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Donc, ça serait dans une optique de rajouter les frais de déverrouillage…
3177 LE PRÉSIDENT: Ben, c’est-à-dire que, mettons que c’est 50 $, ce montant-là sur une période de 24 mois serait toujours en diminution pour faire en sorte qu’à la fin du contrat, ça descende à zéro.
3178 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Dans la mesure où le consommateur va payer pour son appareil, je vois mal quelle serait la pertinence d’adopter ce genre de modèle là d’autant plus que certains frais de déverrouillage sont très, très élevés. Comme je le mentionnais dans ma présentation, pour certains consommateurs vulnérables, ça va être 150 $; donc, même si on l’amortit, au bout d’un an, ça va quand même être, si l’amortissement est parfaitement (inintelligible), à 75 $ – c’est encore énorme. Donc, je verrais un problème avec ce modèle-là puisque les frais en ce moment semblent être très élevés. Il me semble que c’est davantage logique et peut-être préférable pour les consommateurs que, à partir du moment où l’appareil est entièrement payé, qu’ils puissent avoir gratuitement accès au déverrouillage subsidiairement à…
3179 LE PRÉSIDENT: Pourquoi faire la distinction entre un téléphone subventionné et non subventionné? Vous avez dit tout à l'heure que l’abonné est propriétaire, c’est son téléphone. Pourquoi devrait-il payer un montant supplémentaire pour le déverrouiller?
3180 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: C’est pas tant qu’il devrait payer des frais supplémentaires, c’est que… et là, peut-être qu’il faudrait des recherches additionnelles pour confirmer la chose, mais, à ma connaissance, les personnes qui n’ont pas d’appareil fourni dans le cadre du contrat ne vont pas nécessairement l’acheter auprès du fournisseur, c’est pas nécessairement l’option la plus avantageuse. Ils vont l’acheter d’une autre source; dépendant de la source, ça peut souvent être déverrouillé par défaut. Donc, c’est pas tant que ces gens-là devraient payer des frais, mais plutôt que le besoin est moins criant pour ces consommateurs-là parce qu’ils ont d’autres moyens d’avoir accès à des appareils déverrouillés de toute façon. Mais, si l’appareil était acheté auprès du fournisseur directement et que le consommateur a décidé de payer d’un coup l’appareil au complet, bon, c’est un peu la même logique que je disais tantôt, il devrait y avoir accès sans frais.
3181 LE PRÉSIDENT: Tout à l'heure, on va entendre les professeurs Middleton et Shepherd et, eux, ils ont préconisé un modèle où qu’il y aurait peut-être plus de transparence sur les frais de déverrouillage, c'est-à-dire que les fournisseurs devraient faire rapport annuellement au Conseil sur leurs pratiques, politiques et frais de déverrouillage, et sensiblement que le… ensuite, le Conseil rendra cette information publique. Bon, c’est peut-être intéressant d’avoir l’information, mais vous, comme experte des enjeux de consommation sur le terrain, est-ce que ça va aider les consommateurs de publier les frais que Bell et Vidéotron peuvent ou ne peuvent pas charger pour le déverrouillage?
3182 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Dans la mesure où, pour certains consommateurs, ça pourrait être un argument de vente, ce ne serait pas impertinent parce que ça pourrait leur permettre de choisir leur fournisseur en fonction de ces frais-là.
3183 LE PRÉSIDENT: Pensez-vous vraiment que les gens vont choisir au début du contrat basé sur les frais de déverrouillage plutôt que sur les couts des données et le cout de l’appareil puis ce genre d’enjeux? Puis la qualité du service d’un fournisseur plutôt qu’un autre sur sa couverture?
3184 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Ça va de soi que c’est pas du tout le premier facteur, et, à notre avis, c’est la raison pour laquelle les frais de déverrouillage devraient être mieux encadrés parce qu’il ne peut pas… y’aura pas spontanément de concurrence qui va s’effectuer dans ce secteur-là tant et aussi longtemps que, pour les consommateurs, ce qui est important quand ils concluent un contrat, c’est d’avoir le forfait qui correspond le plus à leurs besoins, qui est le plus économique possible, avec un appareil qui leur plait le plus souvent, qui répond à leurs besoins. Ça, c’est sûr que c’est des facteurs que les consommateurs vont regarder en premier. Ceux qui connaissent plus ou moins les fournisseurs vont peut-être les choisir aussi en fonction de la qualité du service à la clientèle. Donc oui, effectivement, les frais de déverrouillage, ça vient en bas de liste. Ça pourrait faire partie, pour certains consommateurs, d’un argument de vente.
3185 Ce qui pourrait être pertinent, par contre, et ce qui serait davantage pertinent peut-être pour le Conseil plus que pour les consommateurs, ça serait de connaitre les différentes limitations au service de déverrouillage. Par exemple, on a déjà eu des cas de consommateurs où une personne avait résilié avec son fournisseur et, parce qu’elle avait résilié, le fournisseur refusait d’offrir le déverrouillage, même si c’était un appareil verrouillé avec son réseau. Bon, je pourrais pas dire que c’est une pratique à ce point répandue, mais ça existe. Donc, ce genre de pratique là…
3186 LE PRÉSIDENT: L’empêchement global des frais de déverrouillage traiterait de ce problème-là.
3187 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Tout à fait.
3188 LE PRÉSIDENT: Est-ce que, à votre avis, les modalités par rapport aux données constituent une modalité principale pour le contrat? Parce que y’a eu une certaine discussion à l’effet que certains fournisseurs mettent les modalités de données non pas dans les modalités principales, et donc dans le sommaire, mais dans des clauses… dans… ils les traitent comme un service optionnel ou supplémentaire.
3189 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Bien, en fait, c’est effectivement une pratique très problématique. Il peut arriver certains cas où les données pourraient ne pas être un élément important du contrat. Et là, je prends le cas hypothétique d’une personne qui décide d’acheter un appareil intelligent, mais qui s’abonne seulement à des minutes et les messages textes, il n’a pas de données. Son fournisseur bloque l’accès aux données, comme certains le font sur le marché d’ailleurs…
3190 LE PRÉSIDENT: Ça n’est pas une acquisition très éclairée, mais voyons. Pourquoi que quelqu’un achèterait un téléphone avec une capacité d’avoir beaucoup de données, un téléphone super-intelligent, comme on dit, et ne pas s’en servir?
3191 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Y’a des réseaux wi-fi, le réseau à la maison. Plusieurs personnes utilisent… bon, quand y’a des gros écrans de cellulaire, ça peut ressembler à l’usage qu’on ferait d’une tablette. Donc, Internet mobile, c’est pas encore donné pour tout le monde, malheureusement. Donc oui, y’a certaines personnes qui vont faire ce choix-là, ils vont utiliser leur téléphone… l’apporter…
3192 LE PRÉSIDENT: Donc, la personne va quand même utiliser les données, mais à travers un réseau non réglementé, le wi-fi gratuit, mais ça ne sous-tend pas, donc, puis pas la thèse que les données sont essentielles. Elles devraient donc toujours, dans tous les cas, être une modalité principale de contrat? Parce que, maintenant, avec… le Conseil a même déclaré que les services à large bande sont essentiels et de base. J’ai de la difficulté à comprendre pourquoi vous pensez que ça pourrait ne pas être une modalité principale d’un contrat.
3193 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Ben, en fait, c’est ça, je commençais par l’exception.
3194 LE PRÉSIDENT: OK.
3195 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Les frais d’exception du consommateur qui déciderait vraiment, en toute connaissance de cause, qu’il ne veut pas utiliser les données, pour des raisons de frais notamment, parce que ça coute trop cher pour lui. Dans tous les autres cas – si le consommateur choisit un forfait qui inclut des données mobiles; s’il choisit un forfait qui n’inclut pas de données mobiles, mais qui rajoute l’option de données mobiles à la conclusion du contrat; si c’est une personne qui prend un forfait qui n’a pas de données mobiles, mais qu’il les garde activées parce qu’il veut y avoir accès –, ça constitue une modalité, à notre avis, importante du contrat, et ça devrait être sujet à toutes les obligations qui sont au Code au sujet de ces renseignements. Donc, si y’a des changements qui sont faits à ces modalités, on devrait aller chercher le… informer le consommateur et avoir son consentement avant de faire des modifications.
3196 LE PRÉSIDENT: La Coalition et Vaxination préconisent que la vente des appareils et la fourniture des services de télécommunications devraient être traitées sur une base distincte, chiffrées d’une façon distincte, et mises sur les comptes mensuels d’une façon distincte. Qu’en pensez-vous?
3197 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: C’est certain que pour plusieurs fournisseurs, y’a un problème de transparence. On a un forfait, on donne un appareil dans le cadre du contrat, on voit l’ensemble des frais de résiliation, mais c’est pas toujours clair pour le consommateur comment cet appareil-là se paye chaque mois. Ce genre de modèle là pourrait être intéressant. Bon, les propositions en question, j’ai vu le mémoire mais je ne me rappelle plus exactement des modalités, mais dans la mesure où ça permet de différencier le prix du service par rapport au prix de l’appareil, ça peut être tout à fait intéressant pour le consommateur. Y’a déjà certains modèles similaires sur le marché – je pense, par exemple, à des fournisseurs comme Koodo que y’a une balance, bon, vous choisissez un appareil de tel prix, on voit la réduction mensuelle à chaque mois. Bon. D’une manière, les fournisseurs seraient capables à l’heure actuelle de différencier clairement la valeur du service qui va à l’appareil versus celle qui va pour le service.
3198 Ça serait plus intéressant si la majorité des fournisseurs le faisaient. Dans la mesure où ils ne le font pas, peut-être que ce genre de modèle là serait effectivement à envisager.
3199 LE PRÉSIDENT: Mais, parmi toutes les choses que vous nous demandez de faire, est-ce que ça serait un des éléments qui est prioritaire pour vous?
3200 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: C’est difficile de choisir dans tous les changements qu’on voudrait… en fait, les améliorations qu’on veut apporter au Code, mais, pour nous, c’est davantage un problème de transparence. Donc oui, ces modèles-là peuvent être intéressants si cette réflexion-là peut nous permettre d’amener des éléments ou des clarifications pour l’industrie pour qu’il soit plus clair pour le consommateur quelle est la valeur de l’appareil, comment cet appareil-là se rembourse dans le cadre du contrat. C’est plus… en fait, il faut régler le problème de transparence pour le consommateur afin qu’il comprenne comment ce contrat fonctionne, comment le paiement de son appareil fonctionne, qu’il ne s’agit pas d’un cadeau ou d’un bénéfice, ni d’un rabais, c’est l’équivalent… puis, bon, je sais que les membres de l’industrie ne sont pas d’accord avec ces explications-là, mais c’est l’équivalent d’un paiement qui va être échelonné sur la durée du contrat.
3201 Donc, si y’a des moyens de rendre les contrats plus clairs pour l’ensemble des fournisseurs à cet effet-là, qu’on arrête d’utiliser des termes très vagues – notre recherche avait fait une énumération des expressions pour parler de frais de résiliation qui sont absolument… en tout cas, incroyables et parfois incompréhensibles pour le commun des mortels –, si on pouvait régler tous ces problèmes-là, bon, ça serait effectivement avantageux.
3202 LE PRÉSIDENT: Un des objectifs stratégiques du Conseil lorsqu’il a adopté le Code il y a quelques années, c’est d’apporter plus de clarté dans les contrats. Si vous deviez apporter en priorité une seule modification pour clarifier davantage les contrats de service et les documents connexes, que recommanderiez-vous?
3203 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Une seule, c’est pas beaucoup, parce que y’a beaucoup d’éléments qui nuisent peut-être à la clarté des contrats…
3204 LE PRÉSIDENT: La question, c’est : une seule.
3205 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Em… sans doute, bonifier, assurer… ben, je sais même pas si c’est un seul élément, mais travailler sur le…
3206 LE PRÉSIDENT: C’est vraiment le choix de Sophie là, hein?
3207 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: <Rires> Ben, notre choix, à la lumière des recherches qu’on a faites, ce serait peut-être de retravailler le résumé des renseignements essentiels. Bon, s’assurer de la conformité de l’industrie parce que, dans notre recherche, on a vu que, bon, des fois, quand un consommateur conclut un contrat, il va avoir une facture avec une partie des éléments du résumé, il va avoir un résumé en page 2, 3, 4, pas exhaustif, d’autres éléments qui devraient être au résumé qui sont dans le reste du contrat, mais pas dans le résumé. Des fois, bon, on a vu la forme du résumé est pas toujours respectée, mais des fois y’a certains fournisseurs qui font un bon travail d’appliquer l’ensemble ou presque tous les éléments qu’il y a dans la décision du Code sur les services en plus sur le résumé. Quand le niveau de conformité est bon, ça aide beaucoup à clarifier le contrat, ça permet d’identifier rapidement les caractéristiques du forfait, les frais de résiliation, la manière qu’ils sont utilisés chaque mois. Donc, cet élément-là pourrait permettre de bonifier la clarté.
3208 Mais, cela dit, la… nous, on a examiné les contrats, bon, le consommateur… nous, on n’est pas des consommateurs inexpérimentés. Pour savoir ce qui les aiderait réellement, il faudrait peut-être les consulter directement.
3209 LE PRÉSIDENT: On a posé des questions aux fournisseurs par rapport à la mise en vigueur des modifications. Advenant que le Conseil préconise des modifications ou des clarifications au Code, est-ce que vous croyez qu’une mise en vigueur à l’intérieur de six mois est une période raisonnable?
3210 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: C’est certain que pour les consommateurs, ce qui est avantageux, ça va être le plus rapidement possible. Compte tenu que le Code est entré en vigueur il y a déjà quelques années et que y’a des problèmes de conformité qui semblent s’être faufilés malgré le fait que, bon, ça fait longtemps qu’il est en vigueur, si, au bout de six mois, on peut s’assurer que la conformité est vraiment garantie au Code, oui, ça serait avantageux.
3211 LE PRÉSIDENT: Et est-ce que les modifications devraient s’appliquer à tous les abonnés, peu importe où ils sont là dans leur contrat?
3212 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: La dernière décision qui a été faite par la Cour d’appel fédérale semble indiquer que c’est tout à fait possible de le faire si le Conseil juge que c’est dans l’intérêt des usagers. Donc, oui.
3213 LE PRÉSIDENT: Donc, à votre avis, ça serait dans l’intérêt des usagers?
3214 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Dans la mesure où y’a plusieurs gros problèmes de conformité pour plusieurs aspects du Code, oui, tout à fait, ça serait à l’avantage de l’ensemble des usagers.
3215 LE PRÉSIDENT: Est-ce que le fait d’avoir plusieurs dates de mise en vigueur pourrait créer de la confusion dans le marché pour les consommateurs si on attendait les modifications seulement quand le contrat était… prenait fin, soit une résiliation ou la fin du contrat?
3216 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Je pense pas que ça soit un problème majeur dans la mesure où on devrait pas s’attendre à ce que les consommateurs connaissent l’ensemble des éléments qui sont au Code sur les services sans fil. Ce qui est important pour les consommateurs, c’est de savoir leurs recours, où appeler quand ils ont un problème, notamment le CPRST. Cette question n’est toujours pas réglée. Beaucoup de consommateurs ne connaissent pas l’existence du CPRST, malgré le fait que ça existe depuis plusieurs années. Ça s’améliorer, mais c’est un recours qui est encore très méconnu. Donc, y’a cette question-là, premièrement. La question de connaitre l’existence des droits peut être pertinente.
3217 LE PRÉSIDENT: Mais je vais donner l’hypothèse. Mettons – hypothétiquement là, c’est pas décidé – que le Conseil décide, pour encourager un marché plus dynamique, plus concurrentiel, où les gens peuvent, sans barrière, changer de fournisseur, décide d’empêcher les frais de déverrouillage. Est-ce que… et donc, on modifie le Code. Est-ce que cette règle devrait s’appliquer à tous les abonnés, mettons six mois après l’entrée en vigueur de cette modification-là, ou est-ce que la modification devrait entrer en vigueur seulement une fois que les contrats spécifiques de chaque abonné auraient pris fin?
3218 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Ben, c’est certain que pour avantager les consommateurs, ce genre de mesure de protection là devrait être adopté le plus tôt possible. Maintenant, c’est au Conseil de déterminer est-ce que ça serait à ce point nuisible pour les fournisseurs…
3219 LE PRÉSIDENT: Je sais qu’en bout de ligne, c’est à nous de décider, mais j’aimerais avoir votre point de vue comme experte en domaine de la consommation. Est-ce que d’avoir plusieurs dates d’entrée en vigueur crée de la confusion dans le marché? Est-ce que c’est plus difficile pour vous de faire des communications auprès des consommateurs s’il faut expliquer « mais non, oui, on n’a pas de frais de déverrouillage, mais seulement si votre contrat a pris fin »? Vous comprenez?
3220 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui. Il va de soi que les communications seraient plus compliquées, mais ça serait pas la fin du monde non plus.
3221 Dans la mesure où, non, votre problème peut pas être réglé maintenant mais il va l'être à moyen terme, bon, ce serait pas la fin du monde. Ce serait gérable. Ce serait pas ce qui serait le plus facile à comprendre pour les consommateurs.
3222 Mais compte tenu que souvent ils se renseignent au sujet de l'endroit seulement quand ils ont un problème, je ne suis pas certaine que beaucoup de consommateurs seraient importunés par deux dates d'entrée en vigueur. Mais il va de soi que ça serait avantageux pour tous que l'ensemble des mesures soit adopté le plus tôt possible.
3223 LE PRÉSIDENT: À un certain moment donné si je comprends bien, oui. D'accord.
3224 J'aurais dû dire à mes collègues que je venais à la fin de mes questions pour voir s'ils avaient des questions? Non plus le contentieux?
3225 Y a seulement une chose. Vous avez la Pièce CRTC-1? J'aimerais y revenir. Y a des questions, des engagements qu'on demande à divers groupes-là.
3226 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui.
3227 LE PRÉSIDENT: Vous êtes sur la page numéro 1. Y a six questions qu'on vous demanderait de répondre si vous pouvez.
3228 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui, tout à fait, on va y répondre.
3229 LE PRÉSIDENT: Tout à fait, oui? O.k., d'accord. Merci, pour le 16 février.
3231 Mme LAMBERT-RACINE: Oui, tout à fait.
3232 LE PRÉSIDENT: D'accord? Alors, merci beaucoup. Je crois que ce sont nos questions. Merci de votre participation.
3233 Nous allons prendre une pause matinale jusqu'à 10h40. Alors, merci. Nous sommes en pause jusqu'à 10h40.
--- Upon recessing at 10:22 a.m.
--- Upon resuming at 10:40 a.m.
3234 LE PRÉSIDENT: À l'ordre, s'il vous plaît. Order, please.
3235 Madame la secrétaire?
3236 THE SECRETARY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
3237 We will now hear the presentation by Professors Middleton and Shepherd. Please, ladies, go ahead. You have 20 minutes.
3238 MS. SHEPHERD: Thank you.
3239 Good morning. I’m Tamara Shepherd. I'm an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary and presenting with me is Catherine Middleton who is a Professor and Canada Research Chair at Ryerson University.
3240 Thank you to the Commission for your time today.
3241 To begin, we support the statement made by intervenors across the board that the current Wireless Code is an important step toward improving the dynamism of Canada’s wireless services market and supporting consumers’ rights.
3242 The benefits of the Code are important, and yet, in the years since its implementation, it's apparent that even more benefit could potentially be accrued to consumers to help them navigate what continues to be a confusing sea of service contract terms and language.
3243 As such, we focus our presentation today on two key elements for consideration. One is ensuring consumers can benefit from a competitive marketplace and the other is ensuring that the wireless services marketplace, through competitive practices, provides fair options for consumers.
3244 DR. MIDDLETON: So I'll begin by talking about how ensuring consumers can benefit from a competitive marketplace and we'll start with the Critical Information Summary.
3245 In our view, a key mechanism by which the Code can continue to provide consumers with better information is an improved Critical Information Summary, which I will discuss using the abbreviation CIS.
3246 Improving the CIS would entail minimal revision to the existing Code. We suggest requiring a more standardized and simplified CIS which is provided to consumers earlier in the process of signing up for wireless service.
3247 According to the Wireless Code’s original rationale, the improved CIS would thus support a more competitive marketplace where consumers could feel confident in their analysis of particular service plans.
3248 The call for an improved CIS has been widely criticized in submissions to this proceeding with wireless service providers Bell, Rogers, TELUS, and Eastlink claiming that their websites offer sufficient
3249 tools for consumers to determine the parameters of available wireless services and pricing plans.
3250 And yet, when examining the examples furnished by these providers in their responses to requests for further information dated the 4th of November 2016, it is apparent that the pricing plans are not quite so simple.
3251 We looked at the screenshots and links appended to these responses and found a confusing array of plans, presented in different permutations, terminology like premium, light, heavy, flex, share, tab, and easy pay, even under a single brand evidences how confusing it can be for consumers to try and navigate the offerings and understand in simple terms how one plan compares to another.
3252 And when providers attempt to simply the presentation of these diverse offerings, they often end up foregrounding only those higher cost plans.
3253 By contrast, a standardized CIS would assist consumers to get past the marketing rhetoric with which they are obviously frustrated in order to evaluate for themselves the appropriateness of particular plans for their communication needs.
3254 In a larger sense, what does it say about Canadian wireless service providers if they’re not able to summarize their plans up front in both post-paid and pre-paid options?
3255 We look toward the example of Australian wireless service providers who do have a more standardized version of plans across providers as an example of a system in which consumers stand to benefit from reduced confusion.
3256 For instance, on the major Australian wireless service provider Telstra’s website, consumers looking for a phone with a two-year contract are presented with five possible CIS documents representing their range of service plans. This low number would translate to a minimal operational burden in the provision of a standardized CIS.
3257 We are not necessarily positioning the CIS as just a marketing or comparison shopping document, as some WSPs have claimed. Rather, the goal is for the CIS to be a more standardized and simple reference point for consumers before they commit to a particular service contract.
3258 Our recommendation is intended as a direct solution to the frequently reported problems of consumers not understanding what their services include and don’t include.
3259 Moreover, other intervenors have made similar proposals that bear repeating. The Coalition outlined a simplified, generic version of the CIS that would feature: a complete description of all key contract terms and conditions; the total monthly charge, including rates for optional services selected by the consumer at the time the contract is agreed to; information on all one-time charges and additional fees; and information on how to complain about the service provider’s wireless services, including how to contact the service provider’s customer service department and the CCTS.
3260 The provision -- the potential of an improved -- meaning simplified, standardized, and early as in before the contract is signed -- CIS to rectify some of the confusion that consumers feel around available services and pricing plans stands to benefit many Canadians.
3261 In this light, it appears that mandating such a summary would be a key means of strengthening the overall objectives of the Wireless Code.
3262 To discuss awareness of the Wireless Code, the falling awareness of the Code suggests that consumers would further benefit from increased understanding of their rights to, for example, request a CIS.
3263 Despite the claim made by WIND that the suggested lack of consumer awareness of the Code may actually be a testament to its effectiveness, the simultaneous lack of awareness of the CCTS indicates that it is a problem.
3264 As noted in the most recent public opinion research from November 2016, increased consumer awareness of the CCTS as part of the overall objectives of the Code is correlated with higher satisfaction with complaint resolution.
3265 We suggest that one means of improving consumer awareness would be to add a note about the Code and the CCTS to the CIS, putting some of the onus on WSPs in addition to the Commission’s public outreach work.
3266 The suggestion made on Day 1 of the hearing by Marina Pavlović and her group to support NGOs or other advocacy organizations who produce informational resources would also be part of this solution.
3267 MS. SHEPHERD: In order to review the Code’s effectiveness, including as a consequence of increased awareness, a multi-pronged approach would be most appropriate.
3268 As noted by a number of intervenors, only looking at CCTS complaints does not provide the best measure of effectiveness because of confounding factors such as attrition through the complaints resolution procedure.
3269 We further suggest that surveys on their own are insufficient to understand how consumers actually interface with providers to learn about their contract terms and to make decisions about wireless services.
3270 As such, we call for more qualitative research, such as Pavlović et al.’s or Union des consommateurs’ mystery shopper studies, or the Australian experiment about consumers’ contract information retention, or the in-depth focus group research with youth and seniors that we presented in the initial proceeding to establish the Code.
3271 To that end, future studies we hope to conduct would involve interviews with participatory techniques, such as shadowing participants as they attempt to navigate WSPs’ websites.
3272 It would also be useful to conduct research on how people are consuming mobile data, how do users’ decision making actions reflect their understandings of mobile data vis-à-vis fixed data.
3273 This is an important question to unpick especially when services are bundled, which can be even less transparent for consumers.
3274 Both of these studies would help show more clearly how people manage the converged digital communications environment.
3275 And finally, to talk about the competitive marketplace, while our presentation today has largely focused on the CIS as a means to ensure that Canadians are able to understand their wireless services and costs in a currently confusing landscape, we also wish to note that there are larger, more endemic problems underlying consumer frustration.
3276 These endemic problems have to do with changes to Canada’s wireless marketplace since the development of the Code.
3277 Even while competitiveness and rates are designated as out of scope issues in this proceeding, a political economic analysis of Canada’s wireless industry reveals that achieving the objectives of the Code, including contributing to a more dynamic marketplace within which Canadians can access quality, affordable, and innovative communication services, are subject to structural issues within that marketplace.
3278 To summarize, the Coalition and others have pointed out the following changes to the marketplace: one; our new service models, such as share plans and flex plans, which can present new sources of confusion for consumers and need more precise language in the Code.
3279 Another is changing consumer demand, particularly around the now-central status of data, which changes the implications of the ways that plans are typically worded.
3280 In accordance with the basic service ruling of December 2016, data can no longer be considered an add-on. As such, data plan pricing needs to be more transparent.
3281 And finally, industry changes, namely increased consolidation of WSPs is important here.
3282 As the submissions from Media Access Canada have argued, the big three have accordingly shown little faith in fulfilling accessibility provisions, since the past policies intended to attract a third or fourth service provider into the Canadian market have clearly failed.
3283 This failure is further evidenced in simultaneous price increases across the big three’s wireless service offerings, which have contributed to the continued high pricing in Canada relatively -- relative to other countries.
3284 Recent CRTC decision 2015-177 also supports the finding of reduced competition in this market.
3285 What these changes further suggest is that, while it’s important to provide consumers with fair and appropriate information about their wireless services, there are a number of limitations to this rational consumer model.
3286 The rational consumer idea posits that people’s decisions are solely based on an instrumental cost-benefit analysis of possible outcomes.
3287 Decades of critical behavioural research has shown that this is not in fact the case.
3288 People’s decisions are based on a number of factors beyond pure rationality, but importantly for this proceeding, one of the main restrictions to consumer choice are the suite of options available in the marketplace.
3289 In this way, the rational consumer idea obscures the power of WSPs to shape choices through their offerings.
3290 To that end, we suggest that additional onus be placed not solely on consumers to be responsible for understanding wireless services, but on providers who have been characterized as using confusion-based marketing strategies that unfairly disadvantage consumers.
3291 Informing consumers of their rights is not enough if they don’t have adequate choices and if those choices that are available are difficult to navigate.
3292 Sharing the responsibility for ensuring that Canadians do not feel limited and taken advantage of in the wireless marketplace, is especially important when the Code is viewed within the larger framework of basic service.
3293 If wireless service is increasingly oriented around data, the Commission needs to recognize the significance of the Code as a measure of access to affordable, quality, broadband infrastructure.
3294 If the Code were to help achieve this larger purpose, it seems obvious to us that the issue of providing more information to consumers is a necessary but not sufficient means of addressing structural competition issues that continue to shape Canada’s wireless marketplace.
3295 So to conclude we reiterate that our proposals revolve around a contention that the Wireless Code is an important mechanism for helping Canadians access what has become an -- a set of essential communications services through their wireless, mobile devices.
3296 The two main arguments we presented to strengthen to Code through measures such as improved CISs and to consider means of ensuring a competitive marketplace that offers fair options for consumers, speak to the importance of wireless communication for a large and diverse group of Canadians.
3297 We trust that the Commission will continue to render its decisions with an attention to the needs of this public.
3298 Again, thank you very much for your attention today. We are grateful to be party to this proceeding and welcome your further questions.
3299 THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I’ll start off the questioning for the Panel at this point.
3300 So my first question deals with the Critical Information Summaries. Do you think that they could play a better role in the pre-contractual phase or is it –- or should we be looking at something different for the pre-contractual phase?
3301 I note your comments that the websites aren’t sufficient.
3302 DR. MIDDLETON: Whether it’s a Critical Information Summary or whether we call it something else, it seems obvious that consumers don’t fully understand what they’re agreeing to when you look at the complaints and so on.
3303 There seems to be missing information at that pre-contractual stage. It appears that consumers have difficulty making sense of all the complexity of information that providers offer to them.
3304 So really what we’re calling for is some mechanism that would encourage providers to be much -- to offer much simpler information about what it is that they’re offering consumers and we think that that is something that they should embrace.
3305 It seems crazy in a way that providers are not able to simply clearly articulate their offerings that ---
3306 THE CHAIRMAN: That hasn’t emerged in Canada. We’ve seen in other markets ---
3307 DR. MIDDLETON: Right.
3308 THE CHAIRMAN: In France Free -- strangely named for France, F-R-E-E, came into the market said look the traditional providers are offering very confusing communication services. We’re going to simplify it and that’s their marketing.
3309 They have I think 50 physical presences in France only and it’s a larger country than Canada in terms of population. They do all their marketing online.
3310 One would think that if there’s room in the marketplace somebody would invent it.
3311 DR. MIDDLETON: You would think so and I think that’s been the challenge in the Canadian marketplace, is making it possible for those -- those inventors to enter the market and that’s been addressed elsewhere in other -- well you’ve said, it’s outside the scope of this proceeding.
3312 But this challenge of how do you add disrupters to the marketplace and if that’s not going to happen is -- are there other mechanisms.
3313 So is something like trying to encourage or enforcing that clearer pre-contractual information through a Critical Information Summary a step to move in that direction.
3314 THE CHAIRMAN: Doesn’t the consumer have a responsibility? I mean caveat emptor comes -- I mean it’s as old as the Roman Empire, I guess.
3315 I mean there’s a point where the consumer themselves have a responsibility. Of course, nobody wants to pay higher prices for goods and services, nobody wants to pay more taxes and we all rush to get the coolest, newest device and then we complain it’s too costly.
3316 I mean what about self-responsibility? What about duty?
3317 DR. SHEPHERD: Okay, thank you for asking that. I was hoping you would ask something like that.
3318 Well pursuant to our point about the rational consumer model, basically the whole idea underlying the Code is that it is primarily the Consumer’s responsibility in a way; right?
3319 So if you take one of the sort of key objectives of the Code is to provide better, clearer, more understandable, more transparent, information for consumers so that they can make better decisions in order to create a more dynamic marketplace.
3320 It means that really the consumer is the key agent here who is trusted with creating that dynamic marketplace.
3321 THE CHAIRMAN: M’hm.
3322 DR. SHEPHERD: And so our contention is yes, the consumer does have a responsibility which is why we’re calling for better Critical Information Summaries to provide consumers with that kind of information.
3323 But they don’t have the sole responsibility, so that is why part of our argument is sort of directed toward this issue of competition in the marketplace, which is that a belief that this sort of competitive marketplace will solve all problems is something that has not come to pass; right? Despite a sort of widespread ---
3324 THE CHAIRMAN: So you’re calling on the government to repeal the policy direction.
3325 DR. SHEPHERD: No, not to repeal it, but to consider how the Code can be used as an instrument to ---
3326 THE CHAIRMAN: Because that’s a matter of doctrine, apparently, that, you know, everything is best through competition. It certainly was the perspective of Mr. Bernier who is now running the Conservative, when he adopted or proposed the Cabinet adopt that policy direction.
3327 DR. SHEPHERD: Right and competition is important, which is part of our concern with the limited number of providers in the market.
3328 So competition is a piece, but the other piece is that competition doesn’t necessarily achieve all of those objectives and there are ways in which the Code as a regulatory instrument could be used to kind of fill some of those gaps and that’s really what we’re calling for is to think of the Code not only -- not solely as an issue about consumer responsibility, which it is, in part, but to also think about how it can push the providers to be offering more fair options to consumers, which in the end would benefit the Canadian marketplace overall, is our argument.
3329 THE CHAIRPERSON: Are you of the view that certain operators in the current system are putting too much marketing in their CIS?
3330 DR. MIDDLETON: I don't really have an opinion on that. I think it's the issue of clarity.
3331 THE CHAIRPERSON: It's for the websites; right?
3332 DR. MIDDLETON: Yeah.
3333 THE CHAIRPERSON: It's -- okay.
3334 DR. MIDDLETON: It's more the need to wade through a lot of stuff. So whether it's marketing or whether it's just there's a lot of details.
3335 So there was an exchange yesterday with Commissioner Menzies and somebody from Rogers, where they were going through all this terminology. And I'm sure when we go back and look at the transcript, we'll think, wow, that was a really complicated discussion. Trying to get at what was a particular pricing model, I think was the underlying issue.
3336 So it may be marketing, and that's part of it, and of course companies have a right to market their services, but there's that underlying question of how do we ensure that the information is easy to understand.
3337 And back to that issue of consumer responsibility. The most recent public opinion research suggested that 46 percent of Canadians have paid for data overages in the past year, I believe.
3338 So that suggests that there's something not right in this market. That I think for most of us if we could find a plan ---
3339 THE CHAIRPERSON: But our December decision is addressing that by requiring them to, when people have overages, to be told that there's better plans for it.
3340 DR. MIDDLETON: Right, but ---
3341 THE CHAIRPERSON: They can't just sit back and profit from an uninformed consumer.
3342 DR. MIDDLETON: Yeah, but I think it suggests that we're not there yet in terms of consumers having the capacity to get the right plan in the first place. I think there's still a need for that to work through the system.
3343 THE CHAIRPERSON: It strikes me that a number of years ago Industry and Consumer Affairs Canada, we got rid of the Consumer Affairs and then we decimated the budgets of Consumer Affairs, and none of that was restored even when the government was talking about the consumer first agenda. In fact, there were more cuts in Consumer Affairs Canada.
3344 If one steps back and looks at the ecosystem globally, there's a number of players, because obviously the CRTC can set out rules. But is it really our role to fund beyond what we already do, in terms of our websites and like that, to fund public campaigns to help less informed consumers better inform themselves? Is that really our role; or have, you know, we just happened because we're publically there all the time because we always have hearings and nobody is holding provincial and federal governments accountable?
3345 DR. MIDDLETON: So whether it's your role or not it's somebody's role, and I think as you say you're here. So it's a policy question, ultimately. So ---
3346 THE CHAIRPERSON: Well, no, it's a governance and machinery question as well.
3347 DR. MIDDLETON: Okay, but either way it's a question of where should that responsibility sit. Because I think we would probably agree that there should be somewhere in the system some sort of support to facilitate consumer understanding of the tools that they need to engage in the digital society and digital economy, because that's -- and go back to basic service.
3348 It's very clear that that is the way that we engage in society today. These are the tools. So somewhere within our environment we need ways to ensure that people have the capacity to do that. Whether it sits with the CRTC or it sits elsewhere I don't know the answer to that but I think it's reasonable to say that it needs to sit somewhere.
3349 THE CHAIRPERSON: Have you, or others, advocated for either the federal, provincial, or territorial governments to do more public education?
3350 DR. MIDDLETON: Yes.
3351 THE CHAIRPERSON: And have you been successful?
3352 DR. MIDDLETON: Not particularly.
3353 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay, have you participated in the pre‑budget consultations at the federal level?
3354 DR. MIDDLETON: I haven't personally, no.
3355 THE CHAIRPERSON: One of the points you put forward is the need for more research in the field, and I was wondering, speaking again about institution within the portfolio of Innovation Canada, to what extent would the Social Science and Research Council fund research around consumer behaviour and the digital economy? Are projects being put forward by academics and students and masters and doctoral students, and if they are, are they successful in receiving funding?
3356 DR. SHEPHERD: Okay, so I can't really answer the question that you posed because I'm not part of the council so I don't really know ---
3357 THE CHAIRPERSON: But you're in a university context ---
3358 DR. SHEPHERD: Yes.
3359 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- so you know what kind of projects go forward, don't you, generally?
3360 DR. SHEPHERD: I know the kind of projects that I put forward.
3361 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right.
3362 DR. SHEPHERD: But I'm not really privy to a sort of across the board sense.
3363 THE CHAIRPERSON: But there was a time when the Social Research Council a few years back decided, look, we're doing a lot of research on old economy-type issues and put a specific emphasis on digital issues. Have they retreated from that?
3364 DR. SHEPHERD: No, they do fund studies like this, yes.
3365 DR. MIDDLETON: Yes, yeah, absolutely. So personally, I have applied for and received funding to look at Canadians' participation in the digital economy, to look at policy issues, that kind of thing. And there is a currently funded partnership development grant on consumer interest research that has a component that was looking at some digital economy issues.
3366 So there are projects out there. There are others that I haven't mentioned, but there are.
3367 THE CHAIRPERSON: And are there other sources of funding as well? I mean, we've seen some foundations, whether it's the McConnell Foundation or others, do they provide funding for this sort of research?
3368 DR. SHEPHERD: I suppose another source would be CIRA, Community Investment Program.
3369 THE CHAIRPERSON: M'hm, but are they doing -- you're saying that they are involved in this field of consumer research in the wireless field?
3370 DR. MIDDLETON: It's up to what people propose, but it's certainly within the scope of the mandate of that program.
3371 THE CHAIRPERSON: I put to most intervenors when I was asking questions, and I think my colleagues did as well, about the notion when it came to unlocking devices. Your proposal that the rates, terms and conditions, policies of various companies' unlocking practices be reported to us and perhaps even published.
3372 Well first of all, explain to me why you think that's important from a consumer's perspective?
3373 DR. MIDDLETON: So we were trying to find out where we had actually stated that. We weren't sure that it was us who had said that. So ---
3374 THE CHAIRPERSON: Well, there you go. So you didn't say that?
3375 DR. MIDDLETON: I don't believe that we -- we certainly talked about unlocking, and we mentioned that we felt that it should be more transparent.
3376 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay.
3377 DR. MIDDLETON: I don't believe that we stated ---
3378 THE CHAIRPERSON: So what's your transparency look like if it's not ---?
3379 DR. MIDDLETON: So one of the things we pointed to was an Ofcom site that lists -- it summarizes the unlocking practices of the major operators, it lists the fees, and shows you -- there's some variation. There are much cheaper than the fees here.
3380 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right, so how are we going to do that, like Ofcom does, without asking them to report to us and publish it on our website?
3381 DR. MIDDLETON: Sure.
3382 THE CHAIRPERSON: So I think maybe we could cut to the chase.
3383 DR. MIDDLETON: Okay, so maybe we interpreted that behind there. So yeah, I think it's reasonable to ask WSPs what their unlocking practices are.
3384 THE CHAIRPERSON: But how does that help the consumer in the market making that decision, that day, at that counter?
3385 DR. MIDDLETON: Right.
3386 THE CHAIRPERSON: You know, it helps research, our general knowledge ---
3387 DR. MIDDLETON: Yeah.
3388 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- our policy looking forward over the next three to five years, but on the ground?
3389 DR. MIDDLETON: It allows them information as to whether they want to contract with that particular provider. If we're talking about that pre‑contract stage, it helps them understand what options are available to them. It helps them understand if they did in fact want to change providers later on that they would either have to pay a certain fee, the fee would be X or Y. They might ---
3390 THE CHAIRPERSON: But that could be two years later.
3391 DR. MIDDLETON: --- choose a provider based on that.
3392 Could be.
3393 THE CHAIRPERSON: That might be two years later.
3394 DR. MIDDLETON: Yeah, yeah.
3395 THE CHAIRPERSON: Is it your view that the -- a Critical Information Summary should be available for both -- well, it is for postpaid but for prepaid as well?
3396 DR. MIDDLETON: Yes.
3397 THE CHAIRPERSON: And why is that?
3398 DR. MIDDLETON: Again, I think it's about having that information up front. So it was mentioned by one of the providers yesterday that often prepaid is purchased in a gas station or a convenience store or somewhere, but that doesn't stop the provider from putting a Critical Information Summary on a webpage so it is there if the consumer is looking for it. So I think it comes back to the issue of transparency.
3399 THE CHAIRPERSON: The -- you mentioned the Commission’s decision just before Christmas on the basic services. Do you think that that decision should have an effect on what is deemed to be reasonable usage for the 15-day trial period?
3400 DR. SHEPHERD: I think what we said about the trial period, in accordance with other groups representing consumers more directly, is that extending the trial period and providing consumers with a more generous trial period is really in the interests of marketplace dynamism.
3401 So, yes, I mean, I guess, if -- especially in the light of basic service, if you consider that a mobile phone is often peoples first point of contact with Internet infrastructure, that having a more robust trial period would help in that sense.
3402 THE CHAIRPERSON: Aren’t you sensitive, though, to the concerns brought forward by the operators service providers saying well there’s a risk of abuse, somebody in the territory, tourist, uses that actually to have an inexpensive phone or device for a short period of time, or people would abuse the situation and return a less than new looking phone which will, of course, be devalued if you want to resell it to a third party?
3403 DR. SHEPHERD: Well, yes, I mean, that is, of course, a concern. It would be interesting to know beyond the kind of hypothetical situation how much that sort of abuse actually takes place or what the financial risk of that sort of abuse actually is. But, sure, that’s definitely a concern.
3404 THE CHAIRPERSON: The problem is we don’t have control groups in regulatory fields, right. We can say well that’s one -- there’s a western code and then an eastern code and then let’s compare what happened in three years. They say there’s a threat. Whether there is or not well we’ll never know until we test it, right.
3405 DR. SHEPHERD: Well, with the current trial period, I mean, potentially you could find out or get the information from providers whether that sort of fraud’s happening even now to try to assess or predict future risk.
3406 THE CHAIRPERSON: And what, in your view, is a reasonable period? Some have suggested it should be -- because it’s 15 days it should be 50 percent of what’s provided for in your contract. Do you think that’s a reasonable approach?
3407 DR. SHEPHERD: It seems reasonable. We don’t really have sort of strong opinions about these sorts of particulars based on the sort of research that we are informed by. So, I mean, yes, for the purposes of answering your question, but I don’t really have anything to back that up with that so it’s not ---
3408 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right. Because you mentioned the December basic service decision and I thought it would have had an impact on what, going forward, would be deemed to be reasonable. Because you have mentioned that it should be part of the -- data should be part of the Critical Information Summary. So that seems like a particular recommendation.
3409 DR. SHEPHERD: Yes. And so having a more generous or robust trial period would seem to go along with that policy directive. But in terms of specific numbers, like if we’re going to say 50 percent, 75 percent, 100 percent, or whatever, that is, I think, less of a concern of our particular point of view.
3410 THE CHAIRPERSON: Perhaps your point you’re making -- I want to bring you to paragraph 16 of your oral presentation today near the end. And perhaps you’re being -- trying to be subtle, for some reason, and I actually don’t understand what you’re trying to say when you say:
3411 “...a political economic analysis of Canada’s wireless industry reveals that achieving the objectives of the Code - including contributing to a more dynamic marketplace within which Canadians can access quality, affordable, and innovative communications services - are subject to structural issues within that marketplace.”
3412 What does that mean? What are you getting at?
3413 DR. SHEPHERD: In short, consolidation of ownership.
3414 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right. Do you think there is too much consolidation or there is proposed consolidation that’s not in the public interest?
3415 DR. SHEPHERD: I think it’s relatively consolidated if you do sort of analysis from a political economic point of view. And here I’m thinking of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project out of Carleton University that has done extensive political economic studies in this regard.
3416 But also, just more anecdotally, when you look at, let’s say, comments from consumers about their frustration, often those sorts of comments cite the sort of structural marketplace issues.
3417 So there is a general feeling, and you can see this in the comments that have so far accrued on your own online commenting portal, there is a general feeling that somehow the shape or the texture of Canada’s marketplace, being dominated by a few large providers, unfairly disadvantages consumers.
3418 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right. But the granting of wireless spectrum options is not in the Commission’s jurisdiction. In fact, I think we’re probably the only G7 country that does not have responsibility for spectrum.
3419 Putting that aside, so let’s step back and look at the Canadian market, you could have 10 players that are behaving in the marketplace in lockstep. I mean, that’s not any better.
3420 DR. SHEPHERD: No, which is why, in my answer to one of your previous questions around competition, I also said that competition doesn’t necessarily solve some of these issues in terms of -- especially in a country like Canada where service, quality, affordability is quite differential across different regions and so forth. That competition doesn’t always solve those issues. Competition is important to create the sort of marketplace dynamism, if marketplace dynamism is one of the objectives of the Code, but it’s not the only sort of solution that’s possible.
3421 THE CHAIRPERSON: But if we had a market with two players -- and some have argued that because of sharing of networks we might actually be there. But even two players, if they’re really competing and going at it, might actually be more dynamic. It’s not the number that makes it empirically more dynamic, is it?
3422 DR. SHEPHERD: Not inherently, but the smaller your number of competitors the easier it is or the more it can facilitate that sort of collaboration let’s say.
3423 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Are you familiar with -- this is my last question for you -- the CRTC Exhibit Number 1?
3424 DR. SHEPHERD: Yes.
3425 THE CHAIRPERSON: And you noticed that there are questions directed to the academics? I guess that would be you, among others.
3426 DR. SHEPHERD: Yes.
3427 THE CHAIRPERSON: Are you able to undertake to provide answers, to the extent you, can on those?
3428 DR. SHEPHERD: Yes, by February 16th.
3429 THE CHAIRPERSON: Yes, please.
3430 That’s okay? Okay. Thank you very much.
3432 THE CHAIRPERSON: That appears to be all our questions. Thank you very much. Thank you for your participation. And I’m sure you’ll be participating in the future phases in this proceeding. We very much appreciate your participation because you bring fresh eyes to some of these issues. So thank you very much.
3433 We have misplaced our hearing secretary.
3434 So thank you. Perhaps I’ll call up the next intervenor, which I believe is Freedom Mobile.
3435 Thank you.
3436 (SHORT PAUSE)
3437 THE CHAIRPERSON: So welcome. See if I can do this hearing secretary role a little bit more.
3438 As you know, the -- as usual in this proceeding -- you’re experienced -- so we just ask you to identify your panel for the purpose of the transcript and proceed with your presentation, and you have 20 minutes, and please go ahead.
3439 MR. BORON: Thank you. Bonjour.
3440 Mr. Chair, Members of the Commission, Commission staff, my name is Bob Boron and I am SVP, Regulatory of Freedom Mobile Inc. With me here today is Ed Antecol, VP Regulatory & Carrier Relations, to my immediate left, Jennifer Douglas, VP Marketing, to my immediate right, Algis Akstinas, Director, Marketing & Commercial Strategy, to Jennifer’s right, Zia Bangash Manager, Call Center Operations, to Ed’s far left there, and Brenda Jones, Legal Counsel, to Ed’s immediate left. We’ve emptied out our Toronto Offices to come here today to present to you.
3441 We are very pleased to be here to provide Freedom Mobile’s views on the Commission’s review of the Wireless Code.
3442 As you are well aware, Freedom has been a supporter of, and an advocate for, the Wireless Code since the very beginning. Customers across Canada have received many benefits from the Wireless Code, including improvements specifically noted in the Commission’s Wireless Code Public Opinion Research 2016 Report. To name a few, a better understanding by consumers of cancellation fees, a decline in the number of complaints, and fewer instances of bill shock.
3443 In the Commission’s notice of consultation, the Commission asked parties to comment on five enumerated issues. Those being the effectiveness of the Wireless Code; the evolution of the regional market since the implementation of the Code; the content and wording of the Code; consumer awareness of the Wireless Code; and how the Code’s effectiveness should be assessed to -- excuse me -- review it going forward.
3444 We are very pleased to address each of these issues in our prepared comments, and after that we’d be more than happy to answer any questions that you might have.
3445 Starting with the effectiveness of the Wireless Code, the Commission also has clearly stated that the objectives of the Wireless Code shall be to make it easier for individuals and small business customers to obtain and understand the information that is set out in wireless contracts; establish consumer-friendly business practices for the wireless services industry where necessary; and contribute to a more dynamic wireless market.
3446 The Wireless Code is achieving its stated objectives in large part and the Commission should be commended for advancing these achievements.
3447 Prior to the introduction of the Wireless Code, Canada was one of the few countries in the world that had three-year wireless contracts. Consumers were unhappy about the length of agreements imposed upon them by the dominant carriers. Consumers now benefit from the ability to exit wireless contracts after two years without penalty giving them the freedom to change suppliers to take advantage of service terms, rates, advancement in mobile devices that better meet their requirements or desires.
3448 As the Commission has predicted, the Code has reduced barriers to switching wireless providers resulting in consumers increasingly taking advantage of a variety of competitive wireless offers and services, and enhancing a more dynamic marketplace.
3449 We believe the introduction of the Wireless Code has allowed the retail wireless market to evolve in a manner where the anger and frustration of many Canadians, consumers and small businesses, felt towards the wireless contracts have been reduced. And consumers are treated more fairly as a result.
3450 An issue that the Commission has discussed with numerous if not all parties in this proceeding in this hearing so far are the fees that are charged for unlocking phones locked to the network of a particular carrier. It is Freedom’s view that the Commission can further increase the dynamic nature of the marketplace by amending the Wireless Code to change the rules for phone unlocking, which will eliminate a significant amount of consumer frustration.
3451 Today the Code requires the upfront disclosure of the carrier’s unlocking fee, but there is no cap on rates for unlocking, which as we’ve heard in this hearing can be as high as $75. The fee is usually payable even when a consumer has fully paid for the phone, either at the time of sale or after completion of the term contract. And consumers when roaming abroad are also at a disadvantage because when a locked device -- because with a locked device that they cannot purchase and install a foreign local SIM which could reduce their international roaming charges dramatically and make life frankly more convenient for them when they are travelling abroad.
3452 Freedom’s suggestion on this issue is that the Commission could take the bold step and completely do away with unlocking fees altogether and require that unlock codes be provided by carriers free-of-charge upon request of the consumer. Further, carriers should be directed to stop ordering devices from OEMs that are locked. This is typically an optional feature offered by handset vendors. We have consulted -- Freedom has consulted several large handset vendors and they have indicated that they would be happy to sell unlocked phones, assuming numbers warrant.
3453 If the Commission amends the Code to prohibit unlocking fees and to mandate that all future devices be sold unlocked, this will enhance market dynamism, it’ll foment customer choice, and discipline the market in a very considerable way. This one amendment could undoubtedly enhance the Code’s effectiveness in both the short term and the long term.
3454 MS. DOUGLAS: Since we launched as WIND Mobile in 2009, the Canadian landscape has shifted. Smartphones, which barely existed in 2009, have become one of the most important devices in our lives. Consumers have changed. There have been demographic shifts, economic shifts, and we’re living in an increasingly digital world. The competitive landscape has changed. The world is getting smaller. The only consistent thing seems to be the pace of change. As a company, we’ve changed. We have new owners, we are deploying a new LTE network, and we have a new brand, Freedom Mobile.
3455 However, high monthly bills, and a lack of predictability still remain some of the biggest concerns for our customers. Canadians pay among the highest fees for their monthly mobile phone service anywhere in the world. Our goal at Freedom is to challenge the status quo. Our new brand reaffirmed our commitment to providing affordable wireless service to Canadians.
3456 We keep our monthly rates low. We work to develop plans with varying amounts of data so our customers can choose the plans that best fits their needs. We have plans that include lots of extras and plans that don’t, so our customers have choice and pay only for what they need and want.
3457 Additionally, wireless customers continue to be worried about the uncertainty around the amount of their monthly bill. We provide freedom from that uncertainty by not charging for plan overages, unless, of course, customers ask to have more data added.
3458 When customers approach their monthly limit we advise them so they can be more careful about their data usage, or find a Wi-Fi network, or they have the option, of course, to purchase additional full speed data for that month. If our customers go over their monthly allotment, there is never a surprise charge and our customers’ data access is not cut off, it is only slowed down. At the end of the day, it’s up to our customers to decide what they want, not us. Our approach is to have our customers in control of what they want.
3459 As a new entrant, Freedom continues to build out its network. Network issues and unexpected domestic roaming charges on the borders of our network are the largest source of our customer complaints with the CCTS. There is still work to do. We are pleased that the latest CCTS results for the quarter ending January 2017 indicates a 47 percent reduction in our CCTS complaints compared to the same period last year.
3460 MR. ANTECOL: And while the Wireless Code has performed well in satisfying its objectives, there are a couple of areas where Freedom suggests an improvement could be made, in addition to the amendment for unlocking fees that Bob mentioned already.
3461 The Commission should consider helping carriers streamline the sales process by creating a more permissive approach to electronic documents. Section B(ii) of the Wireless Code requires that “The permanent copy of the contract and related documents must be a paper copy, unless the customer expressly and knowingly decides that an electronic copy is acceptable.”
3462 Freedom suggests the Commission amend Section B(ii) of the Wireless Code to allow for the default provision of an electronic copy of the documentation. This provision could also provide that a paper copy would be provided upon request, or for that matter, a copy in alternative format. This would align with the Commission’s more recent Television Service Provider Code, in which the Commission left “it to each TV service provider to decide whether the default format of the permanent copy of the agreement is paper or electronic” and would align the Wireless Code with many, if not most, of the current electronic commerce and transactional practices in Canada.
3463 In today’s wireless market, customers are accustomed to obtaining electronic records and often have no desire to receive a bundle of paper documents when purchasing services or products generally. Freedom believes eliminating the default provision of paper documentation would provide yet another consumer benefit while aligning with corporate environmental objectives to reduce reliance on paper products. Freedom sees this as a consumer friendly amendment to the Code and it appears that some consumer groups are not opposed.
3464 Additionally, the Commission should clarify that “web links” should be permitted in terms of service and other related documents to items such as coverage maps, international calling rates, and other material to the extent that this material is not a “key term and condition” of the contract. Such material should not be required to be in a “permanent copy format”.
3465 With respect to prepaid calling services, Freedom stopped selling and grandfathered traditional pay as you go prepaid services about 3 years ago, although we may one day consider reinstating such a service. We now offer monthly prepaid plans, one month at a time, with varying amounts of included usage, depending on the plan. These prepaid plans have no handset subsidies or tabs. There are also no monthly invoices.
3466 Freedom’s prepaid and post-paid services are distinct in many of the areas that the Code is trying to address. Freedom’s prepaid plans have no credit check, no deposit, no bill, no subsidy or tab, no -- and no term contract beyond the selected time period, i.e., one month, and no service when there is no money for continued service. Customers already control prepaid plans entirely. They decide whether to pay or deposit money and can stop doing so at any time. They have no obligation to cancel or to tell us that they’re discontinuing the service and do not get billed if they simply choose not to pay.
3467 Instead, customers make a payment under their control that covers off some amount of usage over some period of time, both can vary based on the types of plans they select. Having made that payment, they can use the service until a new payment is required to continue, which again, can be based on usage, time or both. At that point, they get to choose again.
3468 It is reasonable for the Commission to require some clarity on how these terms are presented to customer -- to customers. Freedom does provide a CIS for prepaid plans. However, the Commission should not regulate the prepaid terms of service. Otherwise, the Commission will just end up restricting choice. For example, barring time-based plans, such as pro rata refunds effectively do, would restrict choice, not enhance it.
3469 As stated in the Wireless Code Public Opinion Research prepared for the CRTC, “Under half of Canadians recall hearing or seeing anything about the Wireless Code, down slightly from 2014.” Freedom submits this is not an unexpected result. What really matters is what help is available when an issue arises for that customer and how they can find the necessary help. In Freedom’s view, the best two CCTS information points are the monthly billing statement; and two, when a dispute cannot be settled after escalation to the second level.
3470 Freedom includes information about CCTS and Wireless Code in its CIS when customers first contact Freedom -- contract with Freedom. We also regularly provide information on our invoices regarding how to contact CCTS in the event of an unresolved dispute using CCTS recommended language and a link to the CRTC’s Wireless Code web page.
3471 Where a customer complaint cannot be resolved by our front line call centre staff, the dispute is escalated to a member of a team referred to as the Office of the President or OTP. After consulting the OPT, and the issue is still not resolved to the customers’ satisfaction, the customer is informed that they may escalate the complaint to the CCTS. The bill notification and the escalation referral process is in accordance with the CCTS participation agreement and Freedom would accept these elements becoming part of the Wireless Code.
3472 Freedom submits that the Wireless Code’s effectiveness should continue to be assessed through public opinion research that evaluates consumer’s protection of wireless -- consumer’s perception of wireless contracts, the number of wireless complaints and the competitive dynamics within the wireless market i.e., are carriers vigorously competing in a rivalrous manner, and is the market sufficiently competitive so as to protect the interests of consumers. Periodic CRTC reviews such as this one can also be effective in hearing from consumers, consumer advocacy groups and carriers.
3473 MR. BORON: The wireless industry appears to be on the right track largely. As noted by the Wireless Code Public Opinion Research, “Canadians are making fewer complaints suggesting the Wireless Code is having positive impacts for wireless consumers. Complaints are down 35 percent in the past 2 years and 20 percent of the 35 percent has occurred in the last 6 months.”
3474 In conclusion of these prepared comments, it is Freedom’s view that it would not be in consumers’ interests to remove the caps on service plan terminations or to reintroduce three year contracts. But it is our view that it would be in consumers’ interests to eliminate unlocking fees and for all phones to eventually be sold unlocked. The Commission should preclude activities, generally speaking, that are -- that essentially trap customers in their existing plans, and stifle competition, and that have a dampening effect on the dynamism of the wireless market.
3475 Mr. Chair and members of the Commission, that concludes Freedom Mobile’s remarks and we would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
3476 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. I’ll put you in the hands of Commissioner MacDonald.
3477 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Good morning and thank you for your comments this morning. They’ve helped to articulate your viewpoints on a number of issues that we’ve been discussing this week. And I’m particularly interested in your suggestions regarding unlocking fees because they’re not exactly perhaps in step with some of the other wireless service providers. So let’s start there.
3478 Knowing that that’s your recommendation does Freedom currently or have you ever charged unlocking fees for your customers?
3479 MR. ANTECOL: Yes, we have. Originally after the Wireless Code was implemented we instituted a $10 unlocking fee and we’ve subsequently increased that to $30. I might add that, in the words of our Chief Marketing Officer, we consider unlocking fees to be “toxic revenue”. It’s revenue that we earn that basically angers and displeases customers. The problem with making them zero is that we -- or not having phone locking is that we can’t be the only ones out there doing it because for various reasons and I guess I’ll let Bob elaborate. But basically, our phone inventory would disappear as a small carrier.
3480 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: It -- sorry, go ahead.
3481 MR. BORON: Could I just add maybe a little bit of colour to that? I guess, as Ed suggests, you know, thinking this through one might state that us unilaterally, Freedom unilaterally removing unlocking fees could be benefits for our customers, which is probably a true statement. However, if you’re looking at sort of the broader issue of enhancing market dynamism, a small carrier that has the smallest market share in any of the markets that we operate in doing that unilaterally could have the -- I don’t know if it’s ironic or perverse or what the right adjective is, but the impact of actually disproportionately harming us because all of a sudden our competitors, the more dominant carriers would realize that all of our customers have unlocked phones and you could imagine targeted promotional plans to Freedom customers that wouldn’t necessarily apply to the other larger competitors because they still have locked phones.
3482 So I guess our position is that from a -- from the perspective of being a catalyst for enhancing the dynamic nature of the market, it really has to -- or it should be done across the board as opposed to being done on a voluntary basis.
3483 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: You started out at $10 and then you moved to 30. How did you decide on those limits and why did you make the move to 30? And even at 30, you’re still below what some of the other providers are currently charging.
3484 MR. ANTECOL: So we looked at the process for unlocking and so it’s often a two-step process for customers. The customer has to contact us with their IMEI and then our customer call centre agents enter in that IMEI, which is our unique device identifier and into a database and out comes the unlocked code, which is then transmitted to the customer.
3485 I think what we found was the typical call was about six minutes, so not a lot of time but what happened was it often involved two calls. One the customer calls and they’re told they need to provide their IMEI and we have to explain to them how to find the IMEI on their phone or on their packaging. They either type a code in on the phone and the phone will display the IMEI or pull the battery out of the back of the phone if the phone -- if you can open the back of the phone and then in -- and with a magnifying glass you can see the IMEI code in the -- on the back of the phone. The customer has to write that down and then call us back with the IMEI. Quite often the customer can’t do it all on one phone call, so what we saw was two phone calls typically and we tried to minimize it by creating a web interface where customers could request the unlock code by putting in their IMEI and then the code would be returned, but that -- we still field a large number of calls at our call center.
3486 So it’s the cost of the customer interaction as well as the cost of maintaining the database. We just didn’t think that we were recovering our revenues at $10 and so we pushed it to $30 and then there really wasn’t a whole lot more science behind that.
3487 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: So at the $30 limit would you say that at that level you’re just recovering the costs that it takes to unlock a phone or is it still, to use your words, maybe toxic revenue, but is it still a revenue profit stream for your organization?
3488 MR. ANTECOL: Well we have a sense that it’s recovering, because if you just look at the call times at six minutes a call, times two, so you’ve got about 12 minutes of calls, plus a little bit of database overhead. So it’s one of those things that chances, you know, I’d say a high likelihood that we’re recovering our costs at $30; a lower likelihood at $10.
3489 I guess I’m reasonably confident, but I don’t have any cost study to provide, but I’m reasonably confident that $30 is covering costs.
3490 MR. BORON: I guess the only thing I would add is that as a philosophy of the company we try to have all fees to customers be reasonable, not be seen as gouging customers.
3491 So as Ed mentioned $10 -- actually prior to April 2012, I think it was, WIND as a company was then called -- didn’t charge for unlocking at all and then in April 2012 it implemented a $10 charge and then I think it was in late 2014 implemented the $30 charge.
3492 But I guess part of that was sort of -- you know, as opposed to going through a cost based analysis it was looking at what other carriers in the market charged and as you mentioned our $30 charge, I think from what I’ve heard in this proceeding, is still at least $20 below sort of the next lowest, so that it -- it was recovering at least some costs, if not largely those costs, but was still seen to be a reasonable amount to charge customers.
3493 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: From a technical standpoint when that code is issued to unlock a phone -- and I ask the questions, I honestly don’t know the answer, how long does that code stay active?
3494 How long does the provider once -- the customer rather once they’re issued that code have to unlock the phone to use a different carrier?
3495 MR. ANTECOL: So there is no -- it doesn’t expire. The unlock -- the phone was coded looking for a specific code. So it’s really once the customer has that information written down on a piece of paper they can -- they can enter it when prompted when they’re putting another SIM in from another carrier into the -- to put another carrier’s SIM into the phone and it will prompt you to -- for the unlock code and at that point you enter it.
3496 So it was -- so I guess it -- I guess the code lasts as long as you have it on a piece of paper and know where to find it so you can put it into the phone and that’s again part of the many problems with unlock codes.
3497 MR. BORON: Maybe -- I’m learning here as well, but I think the point maybe being is that the unlocking code is a manufacturer mandated issue as opposed to a carrier mandated issue; correct?
3498 MR. ANTECOL: Correct. We get the codes for each IMEI from the handset vendor, so it’s not something that we put on the phone and if I can further elaborate, some of the phones we sell don’t have -- aren’t locked.
3499 The phones that we sell that are locked come that way from the manufacturer, the handset supplier, and quite often for inventory and access to product reasons we’re below the -- for instance, some very large handset vendors have a common SKU for each model of phone which comes with a -- for one large manufacturer in particular, with an auto-lock feature.
3500 So as soon as you put a SIM in it locks to the carrier of that -- it locks to the carrier corresponding to that SIM.
3501 So we -- you get the phones. We order out of the common inventory pool from the handset vendor. Our customers pop their SIMs in and suddenly that phone is locked to WIND. If TELUS sells the phone or Bell sells the phone when the customers pop those SIMs in the phone they auto-lock to those carriers.
3502 So that’s the way the phones are ordered. There really -- it’s really hard to -- for some handset manufacturers to keep large inventories of the locked phones and smaller inventory pools of the unlocked phones.
3503 So we specifically order the phones with locking and in some cases and that’s to get access to the larger inventory pools, but we don’t lock the phones. We -- but we do order them locked.
3504 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: So if the manufacturers provide the code and that’s a static code that does not change, is there -- and I assume that’s true of all manufacturers? It’s a ---
3505 MR. ANTECOL: Correct.
3506 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay.
3507 Is there anything from a technical or a security standpoint that would raise concern with respect to giving the customer that code when they sign the initial contract?
3508 MR. ANTECOL: Well we’ve heard some carriers say well it’s a -- it’s a fraud -- it’s a fraud protection. I’m personally a little skeptical about that for a number of reasons.
3509 First of all, you have to give the customer the code after 90 days regardless under the current rules. So that perhaps would only delay the fraud if the customer doesn’t intend to pay off the balance of the phone.
3510 But the other thing is that at the end of the day, a customer can go to a -- to your local -- your local computer shop or whatever and get that phone unlocked anyway and perhaps in a dangerous way, but still unlocked nevertheless.
3511 We’ve heard cases where these unlocking shops don’t use the code, but use other methods to unlock the phone. Perhaps put a new version of the -- an older version of the operating system into the phone or something else and we’ve heard of certain features including 9-1-1 perhaps not working properly after the phone has been broken into.
3512 So if you’re a fraudster who took a locked phone you could get it unlocked for next to nothing improperly and sell that phone and that phone may not function as intended.
3513 So in fact, while you may discourage fraud you may actually not discourage fraud and you may cause more problems for consumers who buy those phones.
3514 So you actually may cause more harm than good and also the person buying that phone would have their warranty invalidated if it was hacked and the person buying that phone second-hand wouldn’t know that the warranty is invalidated.
3515 So we actually see a lot more harm in keeping the codes around then what you had -- the harm you would prevent in terms of extra fraud by delaying the codes.
3516 Does that make any sense?
3517 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Yes, that’s helpful.
3518 With respect to the codes, when phones are ordered from the manufacturer, if you order one with a locking code or one without, does that have any impact either up or down on the price that a service provider such as yourself would have to pay?
3519 MR. ANTECOL: No. We attach it to our POs as a standard clause.
3520 Talking to our handset acquisition specialists they seem to think -- they tended to have a -- we asked them to go and ask the handset vendors if they would prefer us to place our POs without the requirement for locking and for the most part they were generally supportive, but were worried that they don’t necessarily have the inventory levels of the unlocked phones, because all Canadian carriers are ordering locked versions right now.
3521 So apart from the access to inventory issue there’s no cost impacts. Perhaps the phones could be a few pennies cheaper if we ordered them unlocked.
3522 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: That -- you actually touched on my next question which was going to be, you know, if moved to unlocked phones does that create supply issues?
3523 Does that delay time to market where providers -- sorry, manufacturers may be preferring to manufacturer locked phones versus unlocked phones and there being a delay in time to market of a new device coming out?
3524 MR. ANTECOL: Well I mean that’s why we’ve proposed a two-phase solution. One is the Commission mandate that, you know, effective in a very short period of time -- I wouldn’t say immediately, but you might want to give carriers a week to adapt, mandate that the codes go -- the charges go to zero for everybody.
3525 And then mandate that within six months you stop selling phones that are locked. And so that will give handset OEMs a chance to readjust and rebalance their inventory levels so that they're stocking unlocked phones as opposed to locked versions of the same --- the same phone model. So that will adjust a three-phased approach and give the OEMs about six months time to adapt.
3526 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Good, thank you.
3527 With respect to notification, you noted that -- in your opening comments that you do not charge for plan overages unless the customer asks for more data. So how do you -- how do you notify them and at what levels -- what percentage of data usage do you notify them today?
3528 MR. ANTECOL: So the first thing to note is that we sell -- we sell our data plans, our post-paid data plans with a full speed allotment, say 6 gigabytes full speed allotment, and then after that we slow them down. So if the customer goes over their 6 gigs, there's no -- there's no additional charges to the customer but their data performs at a slow rate.
3529 The customer is -- and then we warn the customer at 70 percent and then we tell them, we send them a text again at 100 percent that their data has been slowed down. The customer is offered the option to buy an additional -- and I'll let Jennifer or Algis describe it. The customer is offered a chance to buy an extra data pack which will extend the amount of full speed data.
3530 MR. AKSTINAS: I'll add to this. I think it's ultimately the expected and controlled way of using the service, the expectation from the customer would be and from our to ensure the continuous service.
3531 So in terms of how we are thinking to sort of address this in the future, I think we are, you know, working on set of tools how to both sort of ensure the account management rights are maintained, how certain spend controls are set, not only for data but for all of the services.
3532 And customers having ways to customize notifications, we have SMS, we have email. That are future emerging technologies with app push and notifications from the app side. There are different devices that, you know, receive the notifications differently. We have to think about wearables and not only smartphones, and so on and so forth.
3533 Yeah, so it's just to add to it.
3534 MR. ANTECOL: So I think the important thing is today we're using only two methods which are email and SMS but, as Algis points out, we see a need to evolve that as the types of devices and use cases change.
3535 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Do you offer family or shared plans today?
3536 MR. ANTECOL: No, we don’t but let me -- the short answer is no, we don’t but let me clarify that.
3537 So, first of all, for every line that a person wants to buy, it's a separate contract and we don’t offer a shared data bucket among the -- among the different phones.
3538 Having said that, we do allow a person to come into the store and sign a contract for one line and sign another contract for another line. So, for instance, I went into a WIND store and I bought -- I bought a phone service and I gave the phone to my son and that has nothing to do with a shared plan but it raises the same issues as a shared plan because you have a difference between the account holder and the actual user of the phone who in this case is a minor.
3539 So anyway, if you want, I can go on and talk about how the spending account controls work in that context.
3540 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Well, and that's where I was going because I'm wondering if you don’t have the shared plans, who -- you know, in that situation, does the device holder get a notification that they may be reaching their limit or...?
3541 MR. ANTECOL: Okay, let me go through that then.
3542 So, first of all, the account holder is the one that's given the password to a section on our web page for maintaining the account. We call it My Account.
3543 So in the case of me buying the service and giving the device to my son, I'm the account holder and my son is the device user.
3544 If I've supplied an email address for notification, I will be the one to get the email notification that there's 70 percent and then 100 percent. But if -- but if I haven't provided an email address, the notification will go by text to my son's phone. And so he theoretically -- subject to the account controls which I will describe in a minute, he theoretically could authorize an additional full speed data pack which we sell today for 3 gigs for $10.
3545 So, at the end of the day, yes, my son could authorize an extra $10 on my account without me knowing it in terms of plan usage if I haven't set up the My Account so that I get the notification instead of my son. But that's a very limited amount of overage and he knows that if he doesn't click it, his data will just slow down but that's -- and it won't be any extra charges. So it's not -- the $10 isn't a bill shock issue.
3546 The bigger problem happens with roaming and international calling and what we've done there is we've given the account holder the ability to disable certain functions on the device that the device user cannot override and that's sitting into My Account and there's a password code so that my son does not know the password to the My Account and is unable to change those settings.
3547 And there's four -- there's four settings that we currently have for account spend control at the account level. One is to disable international calling. The other is to disable domestic roaming. The other is to disable U.S. roaming and the other one is to disable international roaming.
3548 So I just again go on with my -- the story with my son and his phone. We went down to the Bahamas over the holiday break and WIND at the time didn't have a really great roaming rate in the Bahamas. We've now fixed that problem. Thank you, Brenda. But the retail price at the time was $20 a megabyte. So I figured if he was going to start snapchatting with his friends while were in the Bahamas, I was going to go bankrupt.
3549 So at the end of the day, I was able to go into My Account and disable international roaming so that I didn't have to worry about telling my son make sure you turn off data roaming when you're there. He found WiFi all over the resort we were staying at but he was unable to engage in international roaming.
3550 So, yes, we do have controls on the roaming side for the account holder.
3551 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: So you have those controls through the account holder assuming they go in and set themselves up in that portal and you said that it's ---
3552 MR. ANTECOL: Yeah, and we have defaults. And Algis, do you know what the defaults are? So if the account holder does nothing, we have certain defaults in terms of what we enable and what we don’t enable.
3553 MR. AKSTINAS: Yes. So by default, Canadian roaming is enabled and international calling and U.S. roaming. International roaming is opt in.
3554 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. And that's password protected ---
3555 MR. AKSTINAS: Yes.
3556 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: --- online. Are there any passwords that are required -- assuming you're in a situation where you hadn't set that up and your son was getting the notification, is there a password that he needs to put in to consent to that upgrade, or could your systems be adapted to require a password for a text message consent?
3557 MR. AKSTINAS: So we do not ask for a password. It's -- the form of subscribing is called USSD. It's for entering, you know, a star pound code. We do however plan to evolve this, as I mentioned in my previous comments, to perhaps to levels of access of the account holders.
3558 The example would be a sort of two lines, husband and wife, equal partners that want to share the -- or have two lines on the account but both of them want to use the services. I guess you want to -- as account holder, you want to have an option to empower both of the users to use the services as they are pleased.
3559 So that would be one of the examples that I guess how I see this evolving is that there needs to be sort of account rights that an account holder can, by default, just have it for himself but could extend to other users.
3560 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Thank you.
3561 Just to change gears, a lot of the complaints, roaming complaints that we received are related to voice services, not data. And I'm wondering if you can share your thoughts on whether more clarity is required around voice roaming charges?
3562 MR. ANTECOL: Okay, well that is a point that does cause some concern, because as you know we have $100 cap on data roaming and no immediate cap on voice roaming. And we do have fraud controls in place, but call records, as you heard, from international destinations can typically take one to three days to come back to us, and they could take up to 30 days.
3563 And carriers have tried various measures to get high usage reports every four hours for those users using excessive amounts of voice or data. And the fraud systems will see a sudden spike, and at some level what's a $425 or $500, will cut that, you know, will cut that sudden surge off, and that will depend on a number of factors in terms of how the fraud monitoring was set up.
3564 So yeah, it's a problem because in a very, very short period of time, and over the course of a weekend a stolen phone can run up $20,000 worth of charges if the customer doesn't report it back. So I -- and I'm just using that TELUS example that was talked about the other day.
3565 We are trying, and we have a number of solutions to solve that problem. We're partway through the solution process. We've already solved, and all carriers have -- all Canadian carriers have solved this problem for prepaid.
3566 So if you're a prepaid caller and you're roaming overseas or in the Caribbean or somewhere, when you make that international call that money's decremented from your prepaid account immediately. And the reason that works is because it doesn't depend on the call records coming back from the foreign operator to the Canadian operator.
3567 The signalling information is passed back at the beginning of the call and at the end of the call and the home carrier is able to rate that call and subtract it from the user's account immediately. So -- and that special signalling is called CAMEL signalling. It's a known standard and all of the Canadian carriers support CAMEL signalling and it is the reason why prepaid works in the first place.
3568 So we've tried a number of initiatives to capture real time voice charges beyond prepaid, and so that the main two ways to do that is to use CAMEL signalling on every call. So you treat all your postpaid customers as prepaid when they're internationally roaming in order to get, you know, so you use the CAMEL signalling on every call.
3569 And the other way we've tried to tackle the problem for -- domestically, so our customers on the networks of Bell, Rogers, and TELUS, we've used CAMEL signalling to send the call back to our network and then we originate it internationally. So therefore, we know how many minutes and how much it's costing in lieu of time for that international traffic, and that's called home routing.
3570 And we've been able to successfully do it with two of the Canadian carriers, and one of them has stead -- one of our roaming partners in Canada has steadfastly refused to permit us to do this as part of the roaming agreement, and one of them has -- one of the carriers, Bell Canada, has said, sure, no problem. In their tariffs, they've said it's completely permitted.
3571 So we're working towards using this CAMEL signalling for all voice calls when people are roaming. And at the same time, we're adapting our billing systems to take advantage of this real time billing.
3572 I'm just guessing that we could be done (inaudible) but Algis, do you have a review on that?
3573 MR. AKSTINAS: Yes, I'm actually very much involved in that project. Our goal is obviously to eradicate bill shock totally. It's not in our interest to have that, and the problems usually are with roaming partners to get these records, and I'm talking about 100 percent of any type of chargeable events for our own systems. Because when you have everything real time, is that when you can control.
3574 So the road was sort of rocky and it took us quite a bit of investments to get there, but that's where we're headed to. There will be some sort of issues with certain roaming providers and we have to compromise. I think, you know, not every provider does support that, so we will have to find ways to solve that, and including the Canadian roaming providers as well.
3575 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Given that you've been doing a lot of work in this area, and to be commended for that, are there particular decisions that we should make when we're looking at what the Code will look like going forward to ---
3576 MR. ANTECOL: So ---
3577 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: --- entice others to make such changes?
3578 MR. ANTECOL: So yeah, there are a couple of things. I mean, so we have over 200 roaming partners around the world, probably approaching 300. So we've had an active campaign to go and test CAMEL signalling with each and every one of those partners and we're rolling through and we've reached a few operators out there who have refused to give CAMEL testing with us any sort of priority.
3579 So you know, to say within six months, you know, thou shalt have a real time immediate cap on voice roaming charges, we may not get there for all destinations. So there may be certain countries, but certainly, you know, we will be there for North America and all Canadian carriers, except for one, who just is refusing.
3580 So -- or at least – yeah. So what I think the Commission should consider doing is sending a signal in the Wireless Code decision saying that they expect, you know, maximum best faith efforts to do real time monitoring and notifications for voice roaming and note that for the time being that exceptions will be, you know, permitted where foreign partners don't -- cannot support the signalling.
3581 So send a message that perhaps in six months' time they should be, or starting now even, best faith efforts towards implementing the cap, and then at some point allowing for exceptions. And then perhaps sometime down the road carriers and the Commission might have to think about well are we going to allow Canadians to roam in jurisdictions where there can't be any real time monitoring of charges. And so maybe we won't, you know, allow roaming in certain countries where the operators are just refusing to cooperate.
3582 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay, thank you.
3583 MR. BORON: Sorry, just maybe one more quick thing on that. I guess the bottom line is is that there's certain elements to this issue that are outside of Canadian carriers' control and outside of the Commission's jurisdiction, but that, I guess, is just the reality of certain elements of this matter.
3584 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: With respect to the trial period, we've heard from the 15 day or the 30 day for people with disabilities. We've heard that -- from some that the trial period may not be overly effective because the allowable limits that are set during the trial period are too low to be able to conduct an effective trial over the 15 or the 30 days.
3585 What limits do you impose and why do you feel they're reasonable?
3586 MR. ANTECOL: So I'm going to pass the question off to Jenn first. Do you want to take a first crack at it?
3587 MS. DOUGLAS: We offer -- for our buyer's remorse, we offer unlimited usage for those 15 days. So it's in our opinion that we give customers enough time to experience our service. They can bring the phone back as long as it's in like new condition with the original packaging, but we feel that that time period gives them sufficient time to test out all the services.
3588 MR. BORON: Maybe just to add to that. I think inherent in that approach it's been our judgement that those rules strike a balance between, as Jenn said, providing adequate amount of usage because it's unlimited usage within that time period. But in the same token, to be fair to ourselves, at the end of the day we would like to get a phone back that is in a saleable condition.
3589 And you know, I don't know if there's magic to the 15 days, but I think, you know, the farther you go out, obviously with the wear and tear on a phone, it's going to be less likely to be in a saleable condition.
3590 So again, a set time period with unlimited usage for the customer to try it is the balance that we have struck.
3591 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And when you say unlimited, that's unlimited voice and data or just data?
3592 MS. DOUGLAS: It's unlimited voice, text, and data.
3593 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Perfect. Thank you.
3594 MR. ANTECOL: If you -- and if I could just add two quick points. If you go to our interrogatory 20th October ’16 seven for questions for WSP’s, we actually have included -- and it’s on all our CIS at the very -- at the bottom portion of our CIS we have the return policy so you can see the actual wording. I don’t know if you have it.
3595 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay.
3596 MR. ANTECOL: And so it’s clean, it’s simple.
3597 And the other second point I want to note is, in addition to having a return policy and a trial period, we also have for customers that are casually interested in trying our service but don’t want to buy a phone from us and contract with us for any period of time, we have a trial SIM that customers can just get at our stores for free and pop it in their phones and try it out.
3598 And we’re just rolling it out now, but it essentially allows the customer to have 100 minutes of calling, 100 texts, and 250 megabytes of data usage over I think it’s a 30-day period. They simply follow the online -- they follow the instructions in the card pack and they go and try it out. They don’t have to cancel if they don’t like it. They can throw the SIM in the garbage if they don’t like it. But it’s just a ---
3599 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And that’s totally so they can test drive your network? There’s no cost ---
3600 MR. ANTECOL: Absolutely.
3601 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: --- on the consumer’s part at all?
3602 MR. ANTECOL: Correct. So long as their phone is unlocked.
3603 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay.
3604 MR. ANTECOL: Yes. And that’s ---
3605 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Good point.
3606 MR. ANTECOL: You know, if all phones were unlocked it would be a great promotion.
3607 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Speaking of promotions, does Freedom offer any promotions or gift incentives to customers to buy your service?
3608 MS. DOUGLAS: Yes, we have offered gift with purchase on occasion when customers purchase certain devices.
3609 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. The -- I guess the example we’ve been using is the Teddy Bear over the last few days. So I get my Teddy Bear at some point -- and I’ll get you to answer which point -- when I sign up for a new service. What happens if I do experience buyer’s remorse and want to return the device but I may like the Teddy Bear?
3610 MS. DOUGLAS: Well, we request when you do return it that you return the gift with the device as part of the buyer’s remorse process. But I guess listening to some of the other carriers over the last few days -- that’s our request. It’s not mandated that it has to come back. If there are circumstances where it hasn’t come back we’ve just let them return the device. So, I mean, but it is our request that they return the gift with purchase.
3611 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And what about gifts that are perhaps more of a consumable? I could return my gently used Teddy Bear but I may have used the $20 on the Tim’s card that you provided me.
3612 MS. DOUGLAS: Right. We haven’t done anything like a $20 Tim’s card or any type of card. It’s always been something that would go along with the device in terms of the gift with purchase.
3613 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Does Freedom have device subsidy programs?
3614 MR. ANTECOL: Yes.
3615 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And what happens at the end of the term?
3616 MR. ANTECOL: Okay.
3617 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Do people generally see their bills go down?
3618 MR. ANTECOL: Okay. So we’re a little different than the larger carriers, because, first of all, our device subsidies at this point, subject to a few exceptions, are very modest.
3619 So our base subsidies are $100 at the moment. So there’s the odd time we’ll have a handset that we want to really promote with our customers and we’ll offer a larger handset subsidy, but they’re quite modest. So $100 over 24 months is about $5 a month in handset subsidy.
3620 So our pricing is pretty close to bring your own device pricing. There isn’t a lot of subsidy that’s being amortized every month. So at the end of the two-year term the customer, you know, has an option, they can come and get a new device and a new device subsidy, they can -- or continue as is.
3621 Bob, did you want to add anything to that?
3622 MR. BORON: Yeah, I guess, as Ed suggests, at the end of that 24 amortization period the customer has a decision to make, or not. They can upgrade and talk to us about an additional subsidy program, tab program. They could switch to a BYOD service if they want to, but, quite frankly, they might not want to because maybe the rate plan that they’re on for the -- that was inherent in the tab program might be perfect for their needs and might, frankly, be less expensive than the comparable offer in the market for the BYOD at that time. That type of situation has existed.
3623 And I guess the other thing just to mention is that at that point it is purely month-to-month, so the customer can make the decision, you know, at that 24, 25-month period, or it can continue on a month-to-month basis and make it, you know, at some point after that period.
3624 So I guess, from our perspective, we kind of put it into the hands of the customers to make a decision at that point, because automatically moving them to BYOD rate plan might be to their advantage, might not be to their advantage, depending on sort of what is in market at that time.
3625 COMMISSIONER MENZIES: Okay.
3626 MR. AKSTINAS: Can I just add that if they did choose to pay -- to add the tab boost or tab fee their monthly payment would decrease after 24 months. So you asked about specifically well if they’re subsiding device and have a monthly tab fee for a device, after 24 months it falls off.
3627 MR. ANTECOL: Let me just further expand on that. So we have a base tab, which is about $100 off when you sign the two-year contract. So if the phone was selling for $500 the customer can buy it for $400 and we amortize -- and we will absorb $100 over two years.
3628 The customer can walk away and pay a lot less for the phone if they commit to paying $5, $15, or $25 a month over and above our plan rates for the two years. In other words, it’s really a financing type of plan, and I’ll just refer to that as a tab boost.
3629 So when the 24 months is over, the boost payments stop. So if you’re paying $15 a month extra on top of your plan as part of the boost at 24 months that $15 is gone.
3630 So we focus more on direct financing with a very, very low base subsidy in our handset sales practices.
3631 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Thank you.
3632 Just three more questions quickly before I hand you back over to my colleagues.
3633 Yesterday we heard from Rogers in a conversation with Vice-Chair Menzies that great problems could be created internally if the devices were sold separately from the contracts, issues with respect to billing, contracts needing to be updated, websites needing to be updated, customer portals, sales training, and so forth. Would you be in agreement with the statements and concerns raised by Rogers?
3634 MR. ANTECOL: To me, it sounds like a typical response from someone who doesn’t want to do it. You start off with oh, it’s too complicated, then it’s too expensive, then it will take too long to do.
3635 But we’ve moved our handset pricing away from the subsidy model already with just a modest subsidy left in the term contract, and I don’t think it would be a catastrophe or take 18 months to completely remove the subsidy and separate their handset from the service.
3636 MR. BORON: But having said that, I guess, I think from our perspective, that’s how we operate today and we’re not convinced that the Commission should necessarily be mandating that because we kind of use it as a competitive differentiator in the market.
3637 So I guess we don’t want to be sitting here and you hearing that we’re wanting you to mandate it. I guess for answering your specific question, if you did mandate it how much time it would take to implement it, which, for us, I think, would be very little, if any at all. But in the same token, we kind of use it as a competitive tool in the marketplace. So, you know, whether you should mandate it or not I guess is maybe a slightly different question.
3638 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. It’s possible but not encouraged.
3639 At paragraph 19 of your September intervention you included language that you currently include on your bills with respect to notifying your clients that they can escalate to the CCTS. How often do you do that on your bills?
3640 MR. ANTECOL: Well, it’s supposed to be on every bill. There was a period of time when we changed the branding from Wind to Freedom that the message box disappeared in IT. But I have checked my January bill and I can confirm to you that the notice for -- about contacting CCTS in the event of a dispute, as well as where to find information about the Wireless Code, those messages are now on our current bill and should continue every month thereafter. Does that ---
3641 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Some have suggested that perhaps leaflets should be included or pamphlets with the bills that outline a simplified version of the Code.
3642 MR. ANTECOL: So I think you have to realize that -- and you might have better numbers but I suspect that upwards of 90 percent of our customers do not get paper bills. So we include a link to the Wireless Code and some -- and a message about the Wireless Code. If we were to include a pamphlet it would just be an extra attachment on an email. I’m not sure how well that would go over with users or how much benefit. I imagine most users would just ---
3643 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: But there’d be nothing preventing you from including another website that they could go to for a simplified version of the Code.
3644 MR. ANTECOL: Yeah, and today we point to the Commission’s website on the Wireless Code.
3645 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. My final question, have you seen Exhibit 1 that was put on the record earlier this week?
3646 MR. ANTECOL: Yes.
3647 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Can you undertake to provide the comments assigned to the wireless service providers to provide -- undertake to provide answers by the 16th of this month?
3648 MR. ANTECOL: Yes.
3650 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Thank you. Those are my questions.
3651 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Just two final questions for you. In 2017 is data a key term of a contract?
3652 MR. ANTECOL: The data allotment, the full-speed data allotment that is included with your monthly plan that you’re signing up to is a key term and it is set out in the CIS and it is -- and if the customer is on any form of term contract, that plan is held intact and in place and not changed.
3653 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. That’s for you but for generally for the industry under the Code should it be?
3654 MR. ANTECOL: Absolutely. Now, in terms of the flexibility to -- for add-ons and we’re always coming up with new ways of creating add-on packs and boosters and stuff like that, but absolutely. I mean, I don’t even know how anyone could say that the data that’s included in the plan that you advertise for whatever price, say $45 a month, I don’t know how anyone could say that that’s not a material part of the ---
3655 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right.
3656 MR. ANTECOL: --- of the monthly plan.
3657 THE CHAIRPERSON: And you don’t see a booster being -- opening up the door to a renegotiation of the entire contract as some parties have suggested?
3658 MR. ANTECOL: No. You know, I mean carriers should be free to offer add-on packs as they see fit. But when a customer contracts for a specific plan with a certain amount of data in it at a certain price, absolutely, the carrier should honour that without change and that is a material element of the contract. Does that answer ---
3659 THE CHAIRPERSON: Going back to buyer’s remorse, you obviously have a more consumer-friendly approach to it, without a doubt. How many buyers actually return your phone -- their phones?
3660 MR. ANTECOL: We’ll have to take an undertaking to provide that number. I don’t -- does anyone have ---
3661 MR. AKSTINAS: If I can? Yeah. Okay.
3662 MR. ANTECOL: And we also might want to provide it in confidence as well.
3663 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Well, fair enough. If you want to seek -- remember the rules about providing abridged versions although -- yes, in that -- okay. So do it in an undertaking.
3665 THE CHAIRPERSON: Well, thank you very much. And perhaps, Mr. Antecol, you could provide a course to others appearing from CRTC hearings as to what a helpful regulatory person should do at a CRTC hearing. So thank you very much.
3666 So we’ll take a break and come back at let’s say 1:30 for the continuation of the hearing. Thank you very much.
--- Upon recessing at 12:22 p.m.
--- Upon resuming at 1:32 p.m.
3667 THE CHAIRPERSON: À l’ordre s’il vous plaît. Order, please. Madame la secrétaire.
3668 THE SECRETARY: Merci Monsieur le Président.
3669 Before we start I would like to enter into the record CRTC Exhibit 2, which is an additional question for wireless service providers and to which all appearing WSPs are required to reply by 16 February. The document is already online so I’m not going to read -- I was going to read the question but it is already online so I will not.
3670 And maybe I will just for the -- pour les participants francophones, nous allons ajouter au dossier public la pièce CRTC-2, qui comporte une question additionnelle s’adressant aux fournisseurs de services sans fil pour laquelle ces parties comparantes sont priées de répondre d’ici le 16 février également.
3672 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for that. Hopefully the interveners that are following the hearing hear about it because other than one professor who attended earlier, not a single wireless provider is in the room when we hear from our first individual Canadian at a CRTC hearing. Well done, folks.
3673 Madame la secrétaire.
3674 THE SECRETARY: So we have copies of the document in the examination room, and as I said earlier, it’s already online as well.
3675 Just for the record, for this afternoon, please know that intervener Chris Coyle will not be appearing today.
3676 So let’s start with the presentation by Mr. Bradley Nickel. Mr. Nickel, please go ahead with your presentation.
3677 MR. NICKEL: Thank you very much. I did get a coveted spot. No one showed up so it makes it a little less intimidating, which is nice.
3678 But thank you very much for the Commission to allow me the opportunity to speak about this very important issue that I’m quite passionate about. I took the time off work as well as my own money to come up and fly to Ottawa to be able to present to you today.
3679 Over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of change in the market and we’ve seen a lot of industry as well as consumer groups have a lot of conflicts. And today I saw over the last couple days a lot of people coming together and there is a lot of commonality but there is a lot of things I think we’re still pretty far apart on. I think the biggest thing is when it comes to when we talk about what is fair.
3680 And today, I think what really drives fairness is the current market structure and the lack of competition, the ineffectiveness of the overall marketplace structure. This has driven the need for a highly detailed Wireless Code and to protect consumers.
3681 Now, there’s always a balance between protection, prescription and regulation, as well as competition and you need a marry of both. So I today want to talk about the causes and not so much the symptoms.
3682 The CRTC has made steps in the past and then made steps to increase competition, one of the goals of the Wireless Code. The next step in the process is not necessarily to bring in more rules but to restructure the market and drive efficiencies, lower the cost of entering and create more competition. This can be done by splitting the network and retail components of the industry.
3683 Wireless communication is no longer a novelty. We started out with wireless communication being something that was fun to have. It was kind of neat to see the person with a car phone. And now, I drive home to get my cell phone when I protect -- when I forget it. That’s how important it is to our lives and Canadians lives. It’s part of our fabric and our culture. How we interact has been changed.
3684 So, today I would like to briefly talk about the need to change the market, how this has historically been dealt with and what a future market can look like. Today I would the Commission to undertake to understand these issues and further examine it, not so much for the Code of this Commission, but to lay the groundwork for future codes and modification to the regulatory regime.
3685 I’m not going to spend much time on this next slide because I think we all agree about the importance of the industry and I only have five minutes and I’d like to respect the time. But the use of data is growing extremely over the next couple years and projected to increase.
3686 This is a very intriguing photo because this photo is of Winnipeg in I believe 1898. And it shows a very similar industry in a very similar phase of where we’re at with the Wireless Code. Electricity was just coming out. You can see the power lines around the light and the telegraph lines. It was introduced and it was a luxury. The rich had it. Many distributed operators quality to serve is varied across the board. And over time it grew into something more. It became a requirement for life and an economic driver of our society. The longer we had access to cheap, reliable power it was an indication of our economic wellbeing.
3687 As we can tell with our wireless services, this is where it’s going. It’s not just a matter of our luxury but it’s becoming a driver of our economy. As self-driving cars come in and the Internet of Things, we need to keep this in mind when we’re creating regulation and treat it as such.
3688 In the past we’ve dealt with this issue by creating Crown corporations across the country in order to deal with this quality and reliability issue. But nowadays we can leverage the use of our understanding of the market to leverage the innovation of private industry to accomplish these goals.
3689 And just to wrap up here, what I’d like the Commission to do is to look at market restructuring within the scope.
3690 Now, I understand this has to be a phased approach. This isn’t going to be one thing we’re going to look at. But to think of what we can start to get for information, to start getting information we need to look at evaluate the market, and also how we can look at what information requests we can ask.
3691 And hopefully I can answer more of the stuff in the questions. I’m going to quickly wrap it up. So create a framework to remove overbuild. It wouldn’t make sense for every person in every house to have three wires from three different companies running to it. That’s what we have in the telecom system right now.
3692 And also to create a framework by which you separate the network and retail component. This would increase competition via a cost of entry and allow non-traditional players in the market to leverage existing assets lowering costs overall.
3693 Thank you very much for your time.
3694 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Nickel. And I’m very impressed that you took the time and effort and financial commitment to be here at our hearing.
3695 So I just have a few questions for you. I take it you’re a cellular subscriber?
3696 MR. NICKEL: No -- yeah, of course I am.
3697 THE CHAIRPERSON: Of course. And that would be good.
3698 And do you care to share who your current carrier is?
3699 MR. NICKEL: Well, I’ve had many loves over the years, but currently me and Rogers are going steady.
3700 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. So are you into a contract? Do you have a subsidized device?
3701 MR. NICKEL: Being an engineer, I’m a person that is probably a bit more meticulous in choosing my contract than the last -- normal -- the average person. So yes, I am under a contract with a subsidized device.
3702 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. And so you’ve recently -- did you negotiate or renegotiate that subsidy and that contract since the coming into force of the Wireless Code?
3703 MR. NICKEL: Yes.
3704 THE CHAIRPERSON: How was your experience?
3705 MR. NICKEL: I think it was -- honestly, that’s why I’m here ---
3706 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right.
3707 MR. NICKEL: --- is because you sit back and you realize that you have three dominant players that don’t compete against each other.
3708 And if we treated this as an industry such as electricity or water, would we accept the complications and how they rate their services. So the City of Ottawa said “Okay, your first 20-cubic meters of water costs you $40 and then after that for every litre it costs you $5, but then, you know, you can do add-ons and stuff” that wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense from a market structure standpoint.
3709 So if we used the utility’s model we could just go from a straight what do we charge for, well, we charge for minutes to talk in Canada, we charge for kilobytes of data, and we charge for service to text, and if we took some -- to look in those different options you’d increase the competition and I think that would be an intermediate step over a complete market restructure.
3710 THE CHAIRPERSON: Why do you think we should look at these carriers as utilities as opposed to common carriers, which would be a more traditional analysis?
3711 MR. NICKEL: I think utility, in my sense of the word, is very much tied into the importance. And again, I’m not an expert on the differentiation between a common carrier and a utility. But I see a utility as is when we describe it most people think of it as it’s not nice to have. And I think that’s where cellphones are going. The wireless data -- the idea of voice versus data is going to be obsolete in a couple years. It basically is with the advent of Skype.
3712 So I think we need to view it was what it is. It’s a utility, it’s a service that will drive innovation, whether it’s a company that has to -- want to install a device that tracks your dog and where they’re at, that needs data, well, now you don’t have much option for that, and it’s prohibitively expensive, so those innovations are going to be stifled.
3713 THE CHAIRPERSON: An airline is more like a common carrier and I’m led to understand that every seat in that plane is paid at a different price. Isn’t that more the commonality rather than utilities when one looks at wireless carriers?
3714 MR. NICKEL: I think you could take that view, but I think you could also take the view of utilities generally reside around necessities. And one would argue that you could state the same thing with water, with sewer.
3715 And I think when we talk about the necessity of this this industry wasn’t necessary two or three years ago to peoples’ day-to-day life. Now it is. If we’re getting to the point where the vast majority of people go back home to grab their cellphone, they’re not doing that activity because it necessarily -- if it wasn’t a necessity they wouldn’t be driving home for it.
3716 And when they pay more for their cellular service then they do for the water they put into their home, or the electricity, or the power, or the gas, it’s a necessity and I think we need to view it from that perspective instead of like a common carrier airline perspective.
3717 THE CHAIRPERSON: And your solution is to suggest that we start looking at the structure of the market. What do you mean by that?
3718 MR. NICKEL: Correct. Obviously I’m realistic in understanding today we’re not going to flick a switch, but I understand the groundwork needs to be laid for the future market of 10 to 20 years today.
3719 So what I would look to do is take a general study of what type of overcapacity we have with the current market structure, because first we need to assess if there is truly an issue and there’s options to optimize.
3720 You can do this on purely a study, taking a sample of maybe 10 points for a year and minute-by-minute data, and from there you could start to get an understanding from the Commission perspective that this is something worth looking into, where further on down the way where you can start to, you know, allow differentiation and retail versus network.
3721 And other steps that could be taken in the interim is saying -- for example, if we take the analogy of water, and there’s many different providers, let’s say, to your house for water, we have three pipelines there, and as you move around you get different quality. From a utility standpoint that wouldn’t be acceptable. You’d be served by the highest quality provider in that area.
3722 And the Commission could take that also approach where you mandate it to connect to whatever tower provides the best and fastest service and at the end of the day each consumer goes around and then they divvy up which provider is connected to who for how long and figure out a transactional or a market mechanism by which that functions.
3723 THE CHAIRPERSON: If I told you that the reality is that even the wireless market there is a lot of sharing of networks and...
3724 (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES)
3725 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. So -- alors s’il vous plaît. Let’s reconvene. I’m sorry; I’m not quite sure why the system crashed.
3726 But just before that occurred, I was going to ask you what if -- what would you say if I told you that in reality there’s a great deal of -- even for wireless services there’s a great deal of network sharing that’s occurring, commercial arrangements that have arisen, keeping in mind that a large part of even the wireless network is done through wireline backbone, and that, in fact, companies have figured out a way to efficiently create the networks required?
3727 MR. NICKEL: And you’re absolutely right, and there has been, in my understanding, of decisions around forced sharing agreements to encourage that, I guess, encouraging as in ordering, you shall share, and I think that’s part of ---
3728 THE CHAIRPERSON: I mean even beyond that. From a commercial perspective ---
3729 MR. NICKEL: Right.
3730 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- Telus and Rogers have come to arrangements, and Bell and some of the regional providers have as well.
3731 MR. NICKEL: For sure, and I think that’s part of the industry and where it’s progressing, and it didn’t start there. And so I think we need to keep encouraging along that way and take it to another step, and I guess specifically around like the forced rate which providers share that’s non-partnered.
3732 The concern around that is that’s not based on underlying economics so there’s no market to kind of give that number, it’s just a forced number provided by the administration down.
3733 So if we create those networks in which there’s a lot of non-traditionals out there, pipeline companies, that have large amounts of dark fibre as well as tower space that could compete into this market with the proper structure that we create more efficiencies than Bell, or Telus, or Rogers could offer with Greenfield developments.
3734 THE CHAIRPERSON: And why do you think that that sort of a market restructuring should and could be dealt with by the CRTC and, in particular, in this proceeding?
3735 MR. NICKEL: I think that unfortunately to get the opportunity to speak with...
3736 (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES)
3737 THE CHAIRPERSON: Are we back?
3738 Okay, so a l’odre s’il vous plaît.
3739 So my question was to you before the system went down again -- I guess it's the advantage for interested parties to actually be in the room to find out what is actually occurring, rather than relying on CPAC.
3740 The -- what -- how do you see this -- the Commission and this proceeding as serving this notion of a restructuring?
3741 MR. NICKEL: I see part of it is information gathering. It's very rare where you have these types of players in industries all engaged in one room at one time.
3742 So part of this would be getting information right now to, not necessarily change what we're doing today. Because I am talking 5, 10, 15 years in the future, but to start to get the information acquired today through these hearings around understanding truly what the usage levels, what are the inefficiencies in the system to explore it further.
3743 And also, if you take that approach around if we're looking at it from today's hearing, especially looking around quality of service, should we structure the market? Instead, the industry makes lots of claims around innovation, around pricing, and I don't think it's innovation; I think it's marketing.
3744 Which is good, and I think that's important, but unfortunately it makes it very hard for the vast majority of consumers to go through and wade through these complicated options when we won't expect anything similar from another utility provider to provide something convoluted like that. We would call that misrepresentation of their product.
3745 So that's what I would encourage this Commission to look at. Obviously, you would have to do more research to see how this goes through. And as a private intervenor I don't have the ability to do all my due diligence to be able to give you the level of assurance I wish I could, but to move to a assert within the interim to look at a complete flat rate of billing for just we bill by the kilobyte, we bill by the hours, you know, that you connect to the network, because that's a service in itself to have access to your phone.
3746 In addition, you took something, a very simplified methodology that you would employ on the utility side and bring that into the telecom sphere; I think we would see much greater competition in the interim. Now, the market restructuring, unfortunately there are a lot of arguments, there's many sub arguments and theoretical debates, but I think overall this market restructuring and the CRTC's mandate is to stand up for the consumer and do what's better.
3747 And I think we need to seriously look at this to see how we can do things better overall and leverage existing assets and allow more people to play. Because at the end of the day we can talk about better regulation or more competition, but the truth is it's a bit of both. And so if we can use something that already exists, that's already built, let's create a market that works towards that.
3748 So today, the first step towards that would be to look at these (inaudible) see what the utilization rates are and to look at just a strict pricing regime if that would create a different market behaviour. And of course, that would -- you know, I don't have the ability to go into the detailed level of study that would provide you with confidence, I'm not saying for sure that's the direction, I'm saying it would be worth looking into.
3749 THE CHAIRPERSON: Freedom Mobile, and in fairness to them, they have joined us in the room, the only carrier to have done so, they would argue that whilst they may agree to having certain standards and norms in the Code to provide a certain amount of consumer protection, they also advocate for the Commission not to go too far because that's their way of carving their niche in the marketplace by being uber consumer friendly.
3750 MR. NICKEL: And I think that innovation in how we do pricing is -- definitely depends on what model we want to take. And right now, the three main players that are all kind of locked into a bit of a -- they're kind of locked into a bit of a weird marriage together, that -- we're not seeing that sort of competition.
3751 So I would say unfortunately, with the way the market is structured right now, we need to take a different approach where we don't regulate them by just allowing them to define the basic rules of the ballgame, and let everyone win and lose. Because we don't have the underlying fundamentals, I encourage that.
3752 So we have to take the other road in the interim, where it's, yeah, we're going to treat you like a utility, it's -- and regulate you as such to ensure quality of service to the people and make sure it's very simple for people to understanding their billing. And I think -- like the Commission has taken massive steps over the last three years on that with the first release of the Code.
3753 But I see it as we can go further, or -- and I'm not saying -- I'm saying study that level and look at analogies across the board in different countries to see if we could create a more competitive state by just making simpler for the consumer to understand to the point where everyone has to be the same in how they bill their services out in the interim step.
3754 THE CHAIRPERSON: Now, there are other players that share responsibility in this area, the Competition Bureau, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development also has a role because ultimately he's the wireless regulator with respect to the spectrum issue.
3755 Have you made similar submissions to those entities or organizations, or in particular, the minister -- Minister Baines has done the consultation on innovation. Did you participate in that?
3756 MR. NICKEL: So absolutely it's something I'm interested in, but unfortunately being a private intervenor you don't -- this isn't my day job. I have a family. I have a life outside of this. And to go sit there and advocacy acorss the board is very challenging.
3757 And so that's why I came here to the meeting because, you know, you kind of look back and think, you know, we need to have more on this input, more on this conversations getting going. And I hope -- that's why I hope the Commission will take a bit of a lead on setting some of the groundwork and doing some of the research, not necessarily to change every rule, but do some of the fundamental groundwork to start directing to look in assessing if there's value here so we can start the snowball going on.
3758 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right.
3759 Well thank you for making an effort to participate in our proceedings. Very much appreciated. I know it is a burden to people that have other things to do, but we listen and we invite you to keep doing that, and there's other rounds in this proceedings in which you might want to express your views.
3760 And once again, I apologize for the technical unprecedented three breaks in your testimony, but very much appreciated. Thank you very much.
3761 Any final comment before we let you go?
3762 MR. NICKEL: No, thank you very much. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss this with everyone.
3763 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Nickel.
3764 Madame la secrétaire.
3765 THE SECRETARY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
3766 We'll now hear intervenor Victor Benitez. He is by Skype, and he's appearing from Edmonton.
3767 Good afternoon Mr. Benitez. Can you hear us well?
3768 MR. BENITEZ: Yeah, good afternoon. How are you?
3769 THE SECRETARY: Very good, thank you. Welcome to this hearing. Panel is here and ready to hear your presentation. You can go ahead.
3770 MR. BENITEZ: Thank you very much.
3771 MR. BENITEZ: Okay, so my name is Victor Benitez, and I guess maybe what I can say, just starting off, is that as much as I don't really like the idea of paying, you know, $200, $250 a month, both on my cell phone bills and cable bills, and it causes me to be quite angry every single month, you know, I understand that they're businesses.
3772 I understand that this is, you know, an infrastructure that costs a lot of money that's shared right across our entire society, both, you know, across private businesses, or the governments, and a lot of it requires very specialized regulation and policies to manage it. So I'm very well aware of that.
3773 But I guess what I think what I could present that could be most useful for this presentation is just my perspective, just my perspective. So I'm not a policy expert and I don't -- I won't pretend to know the implications of a lot, you know, what I might be suggesting.
3774 So a lot of people suggest more competition, or you know, just right across the board making sure that the prices don't go above a certain amount. I don't understand exactly what the effect of something like that would be, but -- so I think saying that, my best input right now is just to give my perspective.
3775 So like I said, I'm a new grad. I just graduated from the University of Alberta with a physics degree. For the last three years, about three or four years, I've been trying to build up a bit of a business myself. It has a social aspect, so I consider myself to be a social entrepreneur.
3776 As soon as I graduated university I actually decided to work on this full time and that's what I've been doing up until this point. So I've doing been doing that about 10 months now.
3777 I still live at home. I have bills that I still have to pay and trying to get this off the ground. And so I'm hyperaware as a social entrepreneur of every single costs. And I think -- I mean I can only talk to my perspective but I'm pretty sure the vast majority of people who start off with absolutely no money like myself or just graduating, who have a good idea and we want to get started, you consider -- you consider extremely quickly how long you can last paying 200 or $250 a month. You feel that very strongly when you're just starting off.
3778 And I know for myself personally that that amount of money that I'm spending I could -- I would way rather spend in on marketing, or developing my service, or reaching out to new people like an employer, making connections and stuff like that.
3779 And you know, even though $200 a month, you know, that's not going to make or break a business but there's so many factors that go into running and just starting a business and, you know, they all add up. They all add up and what that eventually leads to is, you know, what I think a lot of people understand is having run way. So you want to have a certain amount of -- you want to have a certain amount of cash flow or money in the bank so that you can give your service or your product enough time to develop.
3780 So that's something that I think isn't really considered in small businesses is that, you know, you think you have a product or a service. Okay. You start a business, you head out there but it takes time. You make mistakes. You have to figure out your product fit and how you fit into the market and stuff like that. And so you need to have -- you need to have a bit of time and a bit of, I guess, financial leeway.
3781 And I mean the prices on a lot of stuff, the prices on a lot of stuff are like way too high. I think that, you know, internet provides just an incredible -- I mean the service is incredible. Like you can't complain. It's not like it goes down or something like that but it's also -- I mean I think that we kind of just have to collectively look at it from the perspective that is this -- are we going to transition from a country that looks at internet service as -- you know, as something that is just an additional thing? So it's like okay, you want cable TV, you want the sports package, okay, you've got to pay extra. You know, I think -- I think we're passed that point. I don’t think we look at internet anymore as if it's the sports package.
3782 THE SECRETARY: Excuse me, Mr. Benitez. I'm going to have to ask you to conclude. Your time is up, please.
3783 MR. BENITEZ: Okay, sure. Yeah.
3784 So what I would say is that we should start looking at it more from the perspective that it's just a necessary thing and it's a platform. So I wouldn't be able to run a business without water or electricity. I also wouldn't be able to run my business without the internet. And so the price, I mean, I think should go down. I'm not sure how it should happen but it should go down. It's essential for me and I'm sure a lot of people out there are like me.
3785 That's it. Thank you very much.
3786 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
3787 Commissioner MacDonald might have one or two questions for you.
3788 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining.
3789 In your remarks, you mentioned $250 a month. Just out of curiosity, is that just for your wireless service or is that for a combination of different services that you have?
3790 MR. BENITEZ: A combination of different services, yeah.
3791 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And with respect to your wireless service, are you on a family plan now? Are you on a corporate business plan to support your business? What type of plan are you on?
3792 MR. BENITEZ: It's a -- it's a pretty expensive plan. So it's a -- yeah, I need to do business on the go. So I've got to pay for data and it adds up a lot.
3793 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And if I can ask, which service provider are you currently with?
3794 MR. BENITEZ: Virgin Mobile.
3795 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay, thank you.
3796 When was the last time that you actually opened up and shopped around or renegotiated your plan? How long have you been in your current contract?
3797 MR. BENITEZ: I haven't -- I haven't really shopped around -- well, I mean I have. Like I've looked at Freedom Mobile and apparently like, you know, for most people -- for most people, it's good enough because it works like in the core centres of where -- where they operate but sometimes I go -- I might go out of town or I might be somewhere else without service. So yeah, sometimes the service is just spotty and in just some places. At least that's what I've read and that's what I've researched. And of course, they are the cheapest but if I wasn’t running a business, then I would probably go with them.
3798 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: When you last -- I guess when you signed your current contract, did you find that the relationship you had with your provider was positive? Was the contract clear? Have you had a cause to launch a complaint with your service provider, other than related to price?
3799 MR. BENITEZ: Okay. So here's -- that's -- that's a huge bother right there because I don’t know where this agreement came from but it's like when you don’t pay them or you forget to pay them $1 or, you know, $10, they're on you. They're calling. They're sending you emails. They're cancelling your service, right? But then if they overcharge you, it just slips. It goes away. There is no repercussions. There's absolutely no system to enforce that they're not overcharging you and then, you know, having to pay for it in some way later.
3800 So that's definitely something that really bothers me and -- but I mean, that's -- I mean that's in the aspect as far as like my overall experience, you know, dealing with rules and stuff like that. But as far as like signing a contract, I mean it's a contract. It's just something that, you know, most people don't read all the fine prinst and I know I don’t. But I wasn't -- I never felt pressured. So I kind of just had like an assumption that, you know, something like the CRTC or some other organization is ensuring that the contracts aren't just going to like trap you into an agreement, right?
3801 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: To the best of your knowledge, when -- I guess how did you enter into that contract? Did you do it online, over the phone? Did you go into ---
3802 MR. BENITEZ: In person.
3803 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: In person.
3804 MR. BENITEZ: I went to the booth in a mall.
3805 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. So to your best of your recollection, when you had that interaction with the sales representative or in any of the documentation that your service provider provided you, did they take steps to make you aware of the Wireless Code or the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services if you did have issues going forward?
3806 MR. BENITEZ: No. No, and like even if you -- there's the thing. Like even if this -- even if the CRTC said that all, you know, service providers have to point out to blah, blah, blah, what that would translate to at the ground level of the person, it would just be they would give them training to like just make sure to point or circle this thing when you're just, you know, flipping through that, you know, 10-page contract and then, you know, sending them on their way or selling them a phone case.
3807 So it would be good if it was like -- if there was actually something that they could give you, maybe like a little postcard, things like okay, here, here's an actual -- this is a thing to give complaints. But no, it was never pointed out to me. The only way I even became aware of the CRTC is just like looking it up myself.
3808 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Just one final question. Setting aside your concerns with respect to the price of your service, if you had -- if you had one recommendation, one suggestion that you could make to us as to how we could help improve how your service provider delivers that service to you and manages that relationship, what would that recommendation be?
3809 MR. BENITEZ: Honestly, I don’t know. It’s -- you guys have a tough job, but I would just say just ---
3810 You know as far as what CRTC should do -- so as far as what CRTC should do that’s obvious. What the companies should do? I mean the companies are always going to look for more money; you know?
3811 They’re -- they might show up to their presentations and they might say oh we’re here because, you know, we want to work with the CRTC and we want to work with the public and provide and, you know, okay that’s all good. That’s all good, but really, they just want to make money.
3812 But what my recommendation is for the CRTC and what only you can do is represent Canadians and to make sure not just that, you know, the price is the lowest; you know?
3813 That is -- that’s an important factor, but just to consider that, you know, Canadians’ interests are taken into account as much as possible above, you know -- you know, some interest outside of -- outside the public, like the private industry or something like that.
3814 You know, overall the quality of the internet here is really good. It’s really good; you know? It doesn’t go down. It’s decently fast, but it would just make sense if it was much more affordable. I mean, it’s almost like a basic service now.
3815 It’s like how much, you know, it’s like -- like the cost of -- the cost of paying for your cell phone bill is now comparable to like your electricity bill and electricity, you know, is pretty cheap, at least here in Alberta, so.
3816 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay, thank you very much. Those are -- those are my questions.
3817 THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much for participating in the hearing. Very much appreciated.
3818 And as you know there are further phases in this hearing and we encourage you to continue to participate in that or any other proceeding going forward.
3819 We should take -- are we ready for the next -- thank you very much, sir. So we’re ready with the next interview, Madam Secretary?
3820 THE SECRETARY: Yes, we are, thank you.
3821 THE CHAIRMAN: Okay. Let’s go.
3822 THE SECRETARY: So our next presenter is Saskatchewan -- yes, Saskatchewan Telecommunications and they are appearing by videoconference from our Regina regional office.
3823 Good afternoon to all. Can you hear us well?
3824 MR. BECKMAN: We can. Can you hear us?
3825 THE SECRETARY: There’s no sound? Can you hear us?
3826 MR. BECKMAN: Yes. Can you hear us? We can hear you.
3827 THE SECRETARY: We can hear you too.
3828 THE CHAIRMAN: Yes, we can hear you very well, so please go ahead.
3829 MR. BECKMAN: All right then here we go. Thanks very much.
3830 Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. My name is Bill Beckman and I am SaskTel’s Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs.
3831 I am pleased to introduce our panel today. To my right is Rhonda Carsten, Director of Wireless Marketing, and to her right is Kelly Fleece, Marketing Manager of Apps & Planning.
3832 On my left is Glenn Vorrieter, Regulatory Affairs Manager, and to his left is Natelle LaMontagne, Regulatory Analyst.
3833 I’d like to thank you for letting us participate by video.
3834 Since it took effect on December the 2nd 2013, the Wireless Code has had a positive and meaningful impact on consumers and wireless services in Canada.
3835 It has ensured that customers have access to more extensive and easier to understand information concerning the terms and conditions of their wireless service.
3836 Confusion around data usage, early cancellation fees, contract terms, billing details, and bill shock has been significantly reduced.
3837 Canadians are making fewer complaints, which is beneficial both to consumers and wireless service providers.
3838 We maintain that the Wireless Code has generally been effective at addressing common core consumer needs and that the current Wireless Code framework generally allows for industry developments and new service initiatives.
3839 We do not believe that the Wireless Code requires an overhaul, rather, we suggest only fine tuning to the existing framework under this review, while allowing consumer demands and market forces to shape future responses.
3840 The market will reward those providers who effectively and consistently meet consumer needs, solve consumer problems and innovate in the process.
3841 SaskTel believes that the customer must come first and as long as we are delivering excellent customer service experience the customer will be happy and as an organization, we will be successful.
3842 We operate in one of the most competitive regions of the country. Ours is truly a market where market forces and competitive response to these forces influence Wireless Service Provider behaviours.
3843 We clearly understand this and live it every day. The people of Saskatchewan have the freedom to choose the wireless supplier of their choice and SaskTel must be the best at meeting their needs or risk not acquiring that consumer as a customer or worse, losing a very valuable customer to one of our competitors.
3844 SaskTel has a specific strategy to provide customers with exceptional customer service in order to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. Our success at this is reflected in our share of CCTS complaints relative to the industry.
3845 In the 2015-16 CCTS Annual Report, SaskTel had only 25 complaints. In addition, we have received J.D. Power Awards for wireless network quality, wireless customer purchase experience quality and wireless customer service quality over the last several years.
3846 As part of our commitment to a superior customer experience, we pay attention and respond to developing market needs.
3847 Data is becoming increasingly important to Canadians and customers are asking for tools, services, and new functionality to gain greater insight into their data usage and to help manage their overall spend.
3848 Meeting this need, SaskTel currently – recently, excuse-me, implemented data overage usage notifications to alert customers when they could incur overage charges rather than solely relying on the data cap notification.
3849 Development and evolution of self serve tools will continue based on market forces and customer needs.
3850 We know that data management is important to our customers and have provided them with many data management options including: the ability to change plans during the term without penalty if the current plan does not meet the customer’s needs, data usage SMS notifications when customers are nearing their data plan limit and could incur overage charges, data cap messages, email and data usage notifications on SaskTel shareMORE plans, roaming messages, spending limits, built in device data monitoring tools, mySaskTel mobile app portal and in home and public Wi-Fi to reduce data usage charges.
3851 You can see that we provide a number of tools to help our customers manage their data. Let me elaborate on our Wi-Fi contributions.
3852 SaskTel Select Wi-Fi is a public Wi-Fi network provided by SaskTel throughout the province. It is a free unlimited secure service available to SaskTel wireless customers.
3853 We are proud to have deployed the largest Wi-Fi network in the province located in 23 Saskatchewan communities, in over 1700 locations with in excess of more than 4000 access points.
3854 Access to this network by SaskTel wireless customers is seamless and provides customers with additional data at no cost, ultimately extending the availability of their data plan allotment thereby helping to reduce the likelihood of incurring data overages.
3855 SaskTel maxTV and internet customers also enjoy the benefit of having free in home Wi-Fi. This is another example of where SaskTel has provided a free complimentary service designed to help customers optimize the data included in their monthly wireless plan.
3856 In the record of this proceeding we have seen customers ask for three year agreements. In our opinion, the market has changed since the introduction of the wireless code such that the consumer benefits of re-introducing three year contracts outweigh the reasons that three-year contracts were banned in the first place.
3857 New phones are miniature computers and can cost more than a miniature computer. The price of a new phone can make it too expensive for many customers.
3858 There are a number of specific reasons why SaskTel believes three year contracts should once again be available in the marketplace including: lower upfront -- costs would make it more affordable for many consumers to obtain a device and a wireless service, greater device pricing options would be available, higher priced and feature rich smartphones would be available to more consumers where they are out of reach today and customers who wish to take advantage of newer devices more often would still be able to choose a short contract term.
3859 The cancellation fee would be based on the device pricing, amortized over the contract length just as we do today under the two-year agreement.
3860 We operate in a highly competitive market and it is our experience that competitors are nimble and innovative in retaining their customers and winning new ones over.
3861 Let’s listen to what consumers are saying and allow them to choose three-year contracts.
3862 SaskTel continues to look for ways to remain competitive and efficient to ensure customers receive service that is priced competitively. SaskTel is concerned about and noted in this proceeding some of the costlier impacts of the Code. Wireless Code implementation and other operating costs do place pressures on all service providers’ underlying costs. These costs are ultimately passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices. Below are a few of the pressures service providers face.
3863 Restocking fees. Restocking fees are not permitted under the Wireless Code today. However, as we have noted in this proceeding, not allowing a restocking fee is a substantial financial burden. SaskTel estimates for 2016 that its return device costs are $1.44 million. Devices returned to SaskTel are no longer considered new and are sold at highly reduced prices. This issue impacts all services providers underlying costs.
3864 Trial periods. Some participants are asking for longer trial periods which would increase returned device costs even further, as devices may be returned up to 30 days from the start date of the contract as compared to the 15-day period specified in the current Code. There has been no evidence presented in the proceeding to suggest the current trial period doesn’t provide a sufficient amount of time for a customer to test the device and determine whether coverage meets their needs.
3865 Unlocking fees. Current Wireless Code Conduct rules concerning unlocking fees should remain unchanged. The Commission should permit wireless service providers to charge unlocking fees as there are administrative and labour costs associated with unlocking the phone. The 90-day period is also appropriate. Charging an unlocking fee is appropriately left to the service provider as they respond to consumer feedback and competitive pressures. The 90-day period does help reduce fraudulent activity as it prevents customers from obtaining a subsidized phone with no intention of making any payments.
3866 The current Wireless Code increases service provider costs and additional changes to the Code may increase these costs. If one goal is to reduce bill shock, or lower customer wireless prices, we note that adding costs to the service provider may run contrary to that objective as service providers cannot simply absorb costs.
3867 The CCTS has done an effective job of administering the Wireless Code. There is an opportunity for improvement in its mandate. The CCTS rightfully deals with complaints as a matter between the customer and the service provider and does not communicate the outcome of other -- to other parties who might be interested in its resolution of the dispute. These individual disputes and the resulting outcomes are not published as they are reached; rather, the CCTS has used its Annotated Guide to the Wireless Code to advise the industry of its interpretations of specific sections of the Code based upon its determinations of the complaints that are brought before it in the previous time period. We note that these determinations are not based on the practices of the industry at large, nor is the industry aware of the CCTS’s findings until the Annotated Guide is released.
3868 As a result of this process, wireless service providers may unknowingly develop products and/or business practices that do not align when the unpublished views of the CCTS. Such is the case with the debate regarding the party that may authorize charges: the customer whose name is on the bill or the user of the device. The CCTS has determined that the person whose name is on the bill must authorize additional charges and data caps are to be applied at the account level. The position taken by the CCTS impacts data caps, coverage charges, and more recently, data overage charges above the data cap for shared or family data plans. The decision has tremendous impacts across the industry.
3869 Some wireless service providers have already built their shared/family data plan portfolios with the understanding that data caps apply at the device level, and individual device users may consent to incur overages beyond the data cap. It was only when the Annotated Guide was released that service providers became of the CCTS’ interpretation of the Code. Unfortunately, this interpretation came well after service providers launched their shared wireless rate plans. These customers will have been sold a plan that enables the device holders to authorize additional data usage according to the terms of the plan. We respectfully ask that the Commission rule the data cap can apply to the device level and the user of the device is authorized to consent to exceed the data cap.
3870 We understand that there is a Part 1 process in place today to challenge CCS’ [sic] interpretations. Participating members must, however, be aware of a particular interpretation or CCTS of the decision to participate. Given that the CCTS does not publish a comprehensive list of its individual decisions or interpretations to -- until later, nor does it include a date when the interpretation was made, this Part 1 process can only occur when a particular member does not agree with a decision rendered against it, or at the time the CCTS issues an updated version of its Annotated Code.
3871 SaskTel believes that this process can be improved by the Commission requiring the CCTS to consult with the industry when it is presented with a customer situation that requires it to interpret the wording of the Wireless Code as opposed to simply reviewing how a wireless service provider may have dealt with a particular customer interaction.
3872 The current communication obligations imposed on all service providers are sufficient to create awareness of the CCTS. SaskTel is concerned that any additional communication requirements will result in customers circumventing SaskTel’s internal complaint handling processes altogether by going directly to the CCTS. SaskTel wants to ensure that we are given the first opportunity to handle a customer concern before the customer turns to the CCTS for assistance. Communications which cause customers to first turn to the CCTS, without contacting their service provider, create a process that isn’t efficient for the service provider or the customer.
3873 The research report that was recently released as a part of these proceedings shows that by and large Wireless Code and wireless service provider customer initiatives are working. Overall complaints are down by 35 percent and the incidence of customers’ needing to take advantage of the CCTS provides, is declining.
3874 Seventy-four (74) percent of Canadians now consider it easy to manage their data consumption, while another 11 percent were neutral in their response. This would suggest that the majority of customers are becoming comfortable with data usage as tracking tools continue to be made available. While 46 percent indicate that they have paid data overages in the past year, this is not always indicative of customers struggling to manage their data usage. In some cases, customers would have known they would be paying additional data fees.
3875 We note that bill shock has been identified as an issue. Bill shock was defined as a surprisingly high bill, and the two may not be the same. A surprise might not be a shock. But as the question was worded, the customer has to equate the two. This data -- this difference of impact may be the cause of some respondents suffering from data bill overage bill shock 10 to 12 times per year. One would think that if the customer were truly shocked they might take some corrective action; whereas, if they were expecting an overage they may be surprised by the amount but understanding or accepting of it in the circumstances. Happily, we note that the incidents of bill shock, however we perceive, are in decline.
3876 The survey contains valuable insights and information on the Canadian Wireless Industry; however, SaskTel would not want to see changes made to the Code based upon this service -- survey alone. The sample size is rather low. Wireless only respondents are not surveyed. And a seven-point scale makes it difficult to determine the proper classification of neutral responses.
3877 In conclusion, SaskTel remains of the view that the Wireless Code is meeting the objectives set out in 2013 and only requires a bit of fine tuning around CCTS interpretation of Code language, permitting three-year contracts and restocking fees to ensure it continues to work into the future.
3878 In Saskatchewan, SaskTel as a service provider is watching the market needs and adapting to meet them. Based upon our observations, other wireless service providers appear to be doing the same. Market forces are working. Consumers do have a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities in a dynamic and competitive market. Any fine tuning should not upset the dynamics of a competitive market, should not place more regulatory burden on service providers and should clearly be of benefit to the majority of wireless consumers.
3879 With that, I will close and we await your questions.
3880 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. I’ll start us off. And just to assure you, we will not be making decisions based entirely on the survey. We will be making decisions based on the entirety of the record, which includes the survey so -- and your positions and the comments in this proceeding.
3881 My first question, since you operate as a regional player, is there any specificity in your operating territory the Commission should be aware of that may not be reflected in the rest of the country?
3882 MR. BECKMAN: We have facilities in Saskatchewan and we -- our customers roam on other service providers’ facilities outside of Saskatchewan and outside of Canada.
3883 THE CHAIRPERSON: But there’s nothing in your marketplace that’s unique that might not be found in the Atlantic provinces, the rest of the Prairies, B.C. in terms of how wireless is marketed, sold, received? Saskatchewan consumers are like other consumers?
3884 MR. BECKMAN: I -- well, the marketplace is very competitive here. There are the four service providers. There’s the flanker brands, the -- we are the provincial Crown corporation, the competitors are private businesses. There -- I mean, there are some unique characteristics about the province of Saskatchewan, but our consumers I think are generally like consumers you would find anywhere else in Canada.
3885 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. You make a point about three-year contracts. Where in the Code are three-year contracts banned?
3886 MR. VORRIETER: The three-year contracts are not banned is ---
3887 THE CHAIRPERSON: Yet you say that in your ---
3888 MR. VORRIETER: --- when we’re suggesting that ---
3889 THE CHAIRPERSON: You say that in your submission. You said that the Code prohibits three-year contracts.
3890 MR. VORRIETER: Agreed with what you’re saying. We would like to be able to offer ---
3891 THE CHAIRPERSON: So it’s the amortization period ---
3892 MR. VORRIETER: --- customers ---
3893 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- that’s limited to 24 months. There’s nothing that prevents you from doing a three-year contract.
3894 MS. CARSTEN: Right.
3895 MR. VORRIETER: That is correct. We’re referring to being able to offer the amortization period of the device over the three-year period and for the reasons that we’ve cited in our speech.
3896 THE CHAIRPERSON: Now, you’ve said that complaints are down over a period of time since the coming into force of the Code. Why would the Commission make any changes, the particular ones you’re proposing that seem to clearly favour the carrier?
3897 MR. BECKMAN: We are struggling with the changes that you were talking about that would favour the carrier. A three-year contract which would be amortized over three years we would suggest favours those customers who are looking for the ability to amortize that contract over three years and who have spoken out in these proceedings ---
3898 THE CHAIRPERSON: Well, your -- you want to charge restocking fees. You want to limit and frame trial periods. You are not open at all to unlocking fees. I mean -- and you want the CCTS to have a higher regulatory burden. I don’t think any of that would be described as anything other than favouring the carrier. I don’t see a single suggestion in your proposals that would be pro-consumer, let me put it that way then.
3899 MR. VORRIETER: Yeah, our suggestion for the CCTS is to have greater transparency and I think greater transparency not only benefits individual service providers, it will also benefit consumers who will know and understand how the CCTS is administering the Code and what they might expect in terms of complaints that they bring to the CCTS.
3900 The amortization of the three-year device means that it would have a lower upfront cost for consumers and we’re finding that many consumers, because of the price of devices today, are looking to be able to have a lower upfront cost, which means they would be able to get into the market and have a device, a Smartphone, with some of the latest features and technology and be able to do that at a lower upfront cost. So that clearly benefits the consumer.
3901 We weren’t suggesting any changes to the trial period. We find the trial period is effective. It works for our market and we don’t have any evidence of any kind that suggests that it doesn’t work in our area. So I think what we’re saying -- and there are some clear benefits to consumers, in our view.
3902 THE CHAIRPERSON: How long would that be ---
3903 MR. BECKMAN: Devices -- sorry, just ---
3904 THE CHAIRPERSON: Yes, go ahead.
3905 MR. BECKMAN: I was just going to add to that that the restocking fees are a cost of $1.4 million in our market that gets included into the cost of wireless service and is borne by all consumers when not all consumers actually bring their phones back. So that cost is effectively borne by all the consumers and not just those who are not making the decision. So you might be able to suggest that that is a cost that would be beneficial to be able to be borne by those consumers who are asking for their devices to be restocked.
3906 Similarly with the unlocking fees, it’s something which is of benefit to those consumers who are asking for it.
3907 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right. Just so I understand, as a Crown corporation you operate as a commercial Crown so your obligations are not to serve the public interest. You actually have to give to your shareholder a return on investment; is that correct?
3908 MR. BECKMAN: That’s correct.
3909 THE CHAIRPERSON: So you’re motivated principally by profits exactly like other private companies operating in Saskatchewan; is that correct?
3910 MR. BECKMAN: No, we have a dual mandate. We do have a financial return that we are expected to meet, but we are also expected to meet the interests of the residents of the Province of Saskatchewan. And for that reason we do work with our -- or network expansions and service expansions that if you looked at them from a strictly economic point of view, you might not otherwise make. There is a balance and we are asked to bear that in mind as we make investment and operating decisions.
3911 THE CHAIRPERSON: On -- at paragraph 29 of your presentation today you say something that I’m quoting back to you that the decision coming out of this “should not place more regulatory burden on the service providers.” What if that regulatory burden is actually to the benefit of Saskatchewan residents?
3912 MR. VORRIETER: Our reference to not placing additional regulatory burden on service providers, we spoke to that in terms of the cost that it takes to implement some of these measures. If there are new measures, there are going to be costs to implement and maintain those on an ongoing basis. And there’s only so much of that cost that we can continue to absorb as an organization and that can ultimately be passed back to the consumer through increased prices of the service that we can provide to them.
3913 THE CHAIRPERSON: But perhaps consumer -- my question was, some regulatory burden may actually be to the benefit of the residents of Saskatchewan. You just answered my earlier question by saying you have public interest objectives but your most recent answer suggests ---
3914 MR. BECKMAN: Well ---
3915 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- that it’s all about the profits as a commercial corporation to pay a dividend to your shareholder.
3916 MR. BECKMAN: I beg to differ. When sentence says “should not place more regulatory burden on service providers and should clearly be to the benefit of the majority of wireless customers”, maybe we weren’t clear but what we were suggesting that a balance is required.
3917 THE CHAIRPERSON: Let me turn to a few other issues. Do you have prepaid customer plans in your territory?
3918 MS. CARSTEN: Yes, we offer a prepaid service.
3919 THE CHAIRPERSON: Is it a multi-month type arrangement?
3920 MS. CARSTEN: Our prepaid plans are offered from a month-to-month perspective, so our customers can opt to access service on a monthly basis whether they go from a pay-per-use rate or they select a defined dollar value with amount of usage available to them for that. The prepaid customers who have -- if their account falls to a balance of zero we don’t terminate their account. We allow that account to remain in that state for up to 150 days and then the customer would simply have the opportunity to top up the account or add more dollar value to it so then they can initiate usage again and have the service available to them.
3921 THE CHAIRPERSON: But it can be a multi-month arrangement or contract, if I understand correctly?
3922 MS. CARSTEN: Oh certainly. Yes, of course. There is no contract and there is no commitment to multi-months but their service can absolutely run a series of months if they choose to have it do so.
3923 THE CHAIRPERSON: Why do you say there’s no contract? There’s clearly a legal arrangement.
3924 MS. CARSTEN: For 30 days, sorry. There is no long-term contract commitment. It is a 30-day month-to-month commitment.
3925 THE CHAIRPERSON: Were we in a situation where there was a pre-paid arrangement of a legal nature, whether we call it a contract or not, --
3926 MS. CARSTEN: M’hm.
3927 THE CHAIRMAN: -- do you think that there should be a Critical Information Summary?
3928 MS. CARSTEN: We do provide a Critical Information Summary to our pre-paid customers.
3929 THE CHAIRMAN: And you think that that’s a good commercial ---
3930 MS. CARSTEN: So we would agree with that.
3931 THE CHAIRMAN: Okay. So you would not --
3932 MS. CARSTEN: Yes.
3933 THE CHAIRMAN: -- see a problem with us modifying the Code to require CIS for multi-month pre-paid arrangements?
3934 MS. CARSTEN: Yes, we would not see that as an area of concern at all.
3935 THE CHAIRMAN: With respect to multi-users plans, if there’s a data overage beyond the cap, who under your --
3936 MS. CARSTEN: M’hm.
3937 THE CHAIRMAN: -- arrangement has to consent to the overage? Is it the account holder or could it be any of the people on the holders of devices on that plan?
3938 MS. CARSTEN: Right, so for our shareMORE plans that we have in the market we launch them in December and when a customer creates a shareMORE rate plan, they’re asked how they would like to be notified of usage levels within that bucket that’s available to them.
3939 So that customer can determine that they would be notified whether they have an actual unit on that account or not and they can be notified by email or to a mobile number.
3940 So then an overage scenario -- pardon-me, when they’re within the usage at 80 percent we send a notification advising the customer that they have utilized 80 percent of the resources available.
3941 We send another one when they reach the 100 percent mark to the addresses, up 10 they can choose that they’ve routed to us, and then again when they begin using data, as in a fee based in the overage state, however your question specifically I believe is who can authorize additional charges and that is at the unit level.
3942 And when the customer sets up that account we clearly identify to them that the unit can accept and authorize charges and we make it -- each unit is not necessarily an authorized party, but we do make it clear to the customer that is paying that account that those users are able to accept charges.
3943 THE CHAIRMAN: What’s the default position if no choice is made?
3944 MS. CARSTEN: Right, if they make no choice then it is the primary cellular unit on that account, so the first unit that was activated. If the customer chooses not to make other arrangements.
3945 THE CHAIRMAN: So it could be the first unit holder even though they may not be the account holder?
3946 MS. CARSTEN: That’s correct.
3947 THE CHAIRMAN: Could you be in a situation where an unemancipated minor would be the first device holder?
3948 MS. CARSTEN: That is possible, yes. If both of the parents for example have devices through work or such and they setup the account for their children’s use, potentially that is possible.
3949 THE CHAIRMAN: And do you think that is wise?
3950 MS. CARSTEN: Well like I mentioned at the point of activation with the customer we explain that to them. This is the way that we have currently setup our notifications and the text message that let’s them know they’re in an overage and that they can accept.
3951 There’s a couple other avenues that we have available to customers for them to manage charges within their accounts. We apply spending limits to each unit on a customer’s account.
3952 So the customer -- and the spending limit -- spending limit, pardon me, can range anywhere from $150 to $500. The customer can request that the spending limit be held at the minimum level.
3953 That $150 per unit would include the monthly recurring fee that’s associated with that unit and any potential overages.
3954 THE CHAIRMAN: But that’s in addition ---
3955 MS. CARSTEN: So if the monthly recurring fee is in that ---
3956 THE CHAIRMAN: That’s an additional arrangement they must make? That’s not the default setting? Is that correct?
3957 MS. CARSTEN: It is the default setting for all of our activations and contract changes that they all get applied a spending limit over and above the notifications.
3958 THE CHAIRMAN: For each device?
3959 MS. CARSTEN: Correct, yes.
3960 THE CHAIRMAN: And let’s say we are getting to a data overage and I guess you notify somebody they are there, how do they -- what authenticated route must they use to authorize the overage?
3961 MS. CARSTEN: So it’s an SMS that we send them that they are able to reply to. From -- authentication if you mean is there a password or something of that nature we don’t have that.
3962 THE CHAIRMAN: For instance Videotron says that in their case, like one sees a lot of electronic commerce --
3963 MS. CARSTEN: M’hm.
3964 THE CHAIRMAN: -- these days, is that there’s at least a need for a password or a pin or something like that. In the case of Videotron one has to go to the website of the company, enter your password, enter your account with that supplier to make sure that it is indeed the account holder who’s approving and not somebody who has taken control of the phone without maybe the permission of the account holder.
3965 As we’ve seen on the CBC story a few days ago, where somebody had his device stolen and somebody threw an SMS or an email return or whatever authorized overages over $20,000.
3966 MS. CARSTEN: That isn’t part of our current process that they would have to enter a password of any sort. It’s strictly through the SMS acceptance that they would send us back.
3967 THE CHAIRMAN: And if somebody were in a situation ---
3968 MR. BECKMAN: Before we move on ---
3969 THE CHAIRMAN: Sorry?
3970 MR. BECKMAN: Before we move on, I just wanted to add a comment that may, I guess, add some light to the choice about a minor making an authorization for spending beyond the expected data usage.
3971 The -- it -- I think it’s trite to say that there are many parents around who will provide their children with cell phones, but they don’t choose a plan that can get them into danger if they view this as a dangerous circumstance.
3972 So we would certainly want to talk about the possibility of an overage with the family so that they know what the -- the problems that could arise.
3973 We might want to coach them to choose a different plan as well, but you’re correct these kinds of overages could occur. It’s just that because with our customer experience initiative we would like to help the customer to find a plan that is better to their -- suited to their needs and deals with all their concerns.
3974 THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you for that.
3975 MR. BECKMAN: Regarding the $20,000 ---
3976 THE CHAIRMAN: Yes, go ahead.
3977 MR. BECKMAN: Regarding the $20,000 overage I know from the way our customer service reps deal with customers that that would be dealt with as an exception and we would be looking at working with that.
3978 And it would be difficult to exceed the $500 spending limit.
3979 MS. CARSTEN: The spending limit.
3980 MR. BECKMAN: So I recognize what you’re saying when you cite the example that was mentioned on CBC, it’s just that that wouldn’t necessarily be the kind of thing which we would expect to see in our customer base.
3981 THE CHAIRMAN: I’m ---
3982 MS. CARSTEN: Correct.
3983 THE CHAIRMAN: I appreciate your answer. All I’m trying to figure out is by allowing the first holder of a device to be sort of the hammer, you might have a situation where the account holder may not have as much control.
3984 MS. CARSTEN: Right. The -- we have one other measure that’s in -- available to our account holders, over and above the others that we’ve discussed and that is the ability for the account holder to go online or to contact us and to make an adjustment to that opt-in, that that -- let’s say that that is a teenage user, they can override that and opt-out for that unit, so that they won’t receive those additional charges and that would be flagged to them when they reach the 100 percent usage level of their bucket.
3985 So that’s one other safeguard we have in place for our customers that would be beyond the notifications, the spending limit and then there is that override opt-out.
3986 THE CHAIRMAN: So the parent, for instance, who might be the account holder, would at 100 percent get notification that Johnny has gone over 100 percent and authorize an amount ---
3987 MS. CARSTEN: They would get the -- they would get the notification that they have reached 100 percent. They wouldn’t get a notification that he authorized additional spending, but at that 100 percent point they could go in, log into their account and opt the devices out so additional data wouldn’t be able to be utilized.
3988 And then in the future we’re working towards making an additional enhancement that we would be making available in the market this year, where that customer holder, the account holder, can go on and designate how much data each of those users can use.
3989 So let's say, for example, they have a 10-gig plan that they're sharing between two teenage children, they could assign them each 5 gigabytes of that plan and then it's a hard stop when they hit that usage level and they wouldn't be able to accept any additional charges unless the account holder went in and allowed that.
3990 THE CHAIRPERSON: So in your original example, if Johnny is approved going over the 100 percent and mom is in a three-hour meeting, what happens between -- for the data that's been consumed during that intervening period?
3991 MS. CARSTEN: Well, if the mother in this instance wasn’t able to go on to the account and opt those individual units out, depending on how much data that individual could consume within that window of time, they would either hit the $50 limit or potentially hit the spending limit for that unit and then their data would be suspended at that point. So they could incur additional charges.
3992 THE CHAIRPERSON: They would not?
3993 MS. CARSTEN: They could, yes.
3994 MR. BECKMAN: But there's limits.
3995 MS. CARSTEN: But there's limits to how far they can go with that.
3996 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right, unless Johnny authorizes that as well.
3997 MS. CARSTEN: Correct, but they would be in a spending limit. In all likelihood, they could hit that 150 because that includes the monthly recurring. So worst case scenario, he would probably rack up potentially $80 to -- you know, with that -- if they've assigned $150 spending limit for that unit.
3998 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
3999 With respect to voice roaming, is it your experience that customers have some frustration because the caps don’t apply to voice roaming?
4000 MS. CARSTEN: Well, we do have customers who call us with regards to understanding their roaming bills. I don’t have a specific number with us today about how many are just restricted to voice. We do know that it isn't the majority of the calls we receive.
4001 Voice when -- other carriers have mentioned when a customer is roaming in a voice situation and they land in that country, they do receive that email that notifies them of what the cost per minute is for voice. And as we know, it's much easier to calculate voice usage than it is data.
4002 So the customer -- and the phone records also show on their device how long of a voice conversation they had. So it is easier for the customer to understand what they are incurring from a voice usage perspective.
4003 THE CHAIRPERSON: So what -- do you offer products to people let's say that travel regularly the States that might not want to face voice roaming overcharges?
4004 MS. CARSTEN: We do have U.S. -- we call it Roam and Relax or a daily roaming fee that a customer can advantage of so that they can -- it has unlimited minutes from a voice perspective for $3 for a 24-hour window of time.
4005 THE CHAIRPERSON: That’s for the U.S. or internationally?
4006 MS. CARSTEN: That is for the United States, yes, or they have the $3 for unlimited or they can use 7 cents per minute on a pay-per-use perspective.
4007 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right. If you're able to offer that, that's probably because you have some sort of certainty around what your cost will be. Is that correct?
4008 MS. CARSTEN: Yes.
4009 THE CHAIRPERSON: So why couldn't you -- why couldn't we go forward in having some sort of voice roaming cap for travel in the United States where millions of Canadians travel every day? Well, perhaps not every day but every year.
4010 MS. CARSTEN: Well, we do know that we don’t necessarily have real-time records. In every instance, we base that on ---
4011 THE CHAIRPERSON: You must have sufficient -- you must have sufficient certainty. You've offered $3 a day. You know how much it costs.
4012 MS. CARSTEN: Right.
4013 THE CHAIRPERSON: You're not trying to make me believe you don’t know how it much it costs to roam in the United States, do you?
4014 MS. CARSTEN: No, I do know that. What I was suggesting is that we apply to the -- to the economic analysis the typical usage that we experience in our market and what our roaming agreements would afford us to do.
4015 THE CHAIRPERSON: And with respect to voice roaming, who gets notified if -- on a multi-user plan?
4016 MS. CARSTEN: The device holder.
4017 THE CHAIRPERSON: Just the device holder, which could be Johnny.
4018 MS. CARSTEN: Correct.
4019 THE CHAIRPERSON: Let me now turn to trials and I'm going to turn to page 16, the trial period -- paragraph 16 of your presentation.
4020 MS. CARSTEN: M'hm.
4021 THE CHAIRPERSON: And you say:
4022 "There has been no evidence presented in this proceeding to suggest the current trial period doesn’t provide a sufficient amount of time for a customer to test the device and determine whether coverage meets their needs."
4023 We actually heard evidence to the fact that some of the permitted periods of time for voice, text, and data could be absorbed in just a few hours. We also heard evidence from both -- from Videotron saying that they've decided to do 30 days because that's more consumer friendly and that Freedom actually is much more generous on this count.
4024 So I think we have heard evidence that there's other ways of doing business.
4025 MS. CARSTEN: Well, we certainly haven't experienced customer complaints from the length of our trial. I would suggest that the trial terms that we make available to our customers have a lot of benefits to them.
4026 We have a 15-day trial that has 100 voice minutes, unlimited text messaging, and 250 megabytes of data and unlimited access to our cell Sasktel Select Wi-Fi network.
4027 We also have a 30-day trial option for customers that purchase a device from us online or for customers of an accessibility nature. And that 30-day trial period includes 200 voice minutes, unlimited text messaging, and 500 megabytes of data.
4028 So, in our experience with our customers, there is no evidence that in our marketplace what we've offered has restricted their ability to gain a good understanding of the service and the product within that window of time.
4029 THE CHAIRPERSON: And you believe that that's a reasonable amount?
4030 MS. CARSTEN: Yes.
4031 THE CHAIRPERSON: And when does the 15-day start? When they receive their contract or when the original agreement is made?
4032 MS. CARSTEN: It begins the day of activation.
4033 THE CHAIRPERSON: When they may not have yet the paper copy for instance of the contract.
4034 MS. CARSTEN: From an online perspective, that's why we extend the trial period from 15 days to 30 because we allow time for it to -- them to receive it through the mail. But at the point of activation ---
4035 THE CHAIRPERSON: So it's not really 30 days. It's -- it's not really 30 days. It's 30 days less delivery time through Canada Post.
4036 MS. CARSTEN: Fair enough.
4037 MR. BECKMAN: Thirty (30) days from activation.
4038 THE CHAIRPERSON: And have your amounts changed over the past three years of allowance for voice, text, and data?
4039 MS. CARSTEN: The changes that we've made in the past three years are that we added the unlimited text messaging to it. We removed the restocking fee and we added the 30-day for self-declared from accessibility and a web purchase perspective.
4040 THE CHAIRPERSON: And why wouldn't it be more reasonable that the Code's provision for non-accessibility situations of 15 days not be measured with respect to the amount of data you're actually contracted to provide to that particular subscriber?
4041 MS. CARSTEN: Well, I think that the intention of a trial period is to allow the customer to gain an understanding of how the service works, what the coverage is like, what they can anticipate, and we feel comfortable that the amount of data we're allotting within the trial period gives them that opportunity to do so.
4042 We also have available to them unlimited usage from a Wi-Fi perspective, whether that be the in-home Wi-Fi that SaskTel provides to them or the public Wi-Fi network that's located throughout the province.
4043 THE CHAIRPERSON: Do you use promotion incentives of gifts with purchase or other similar marketing promotions?
4044 MS. CARSTEN: We haven't currently used -- oh, I understand. We don’t use gifts with purchase from a SaskTel initiated perspective in the market. We have over the course of the last few years done a couple of gift with purchase that we facilitated for the manufacturer but we don’t initiate gift with purchase offers.
4045 THE CHAIRPERSON: So you have not gotten into situations where someone after the trial period decides to -- there's buyer's remorse and they decide not to go with you because the coverage isn't good or whatever reason and returned the phone to the -- you haven’t had the experience of them having to return gifts of any sort?
4046 And who takes the risk ---
4047 MS. CARSTEN: No, because we don't.
4048 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right.
4049 You said though that there are gifts, perhaps ---
4050 MS. CARSTEN: Sorry.
4051 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- for manufacturers. How do those get returned, if any?
4052 MS. CARSTEN: We did -- yeah. Well, we certainly requested if the customer, you know, was going to return the device from a buyer's remorse type situation or within that trial period, we requested that they return the gift that the manufacturer had provided. But we didn't pursue it to any great extent if the customer did not return that gift.
4053 THE CHAIRPERSON: Who assumes the risk of that promotional item not being returned?
4054 MS. CARSTEN: The manufacturer would.
4055 THE CHAIRPERSON: They don't claim anything from you?
4056 MS. CARSTEN: In the two instances where we facilitated this, there was not any follow up or claiming that they did from us for gifts, no.
4057 THE CHAIRPERSON: What would you estimate to be the wholesale value of these gifts? Were they $5, $10, $100?
4058 MS. CARSTEN: It was, you know, around 1 to 200 dollars in the one instance, and the other was much less than that. I don't know the exact amount of the other one.
4059 THE CHAIRPERSON: Well, I'm just asking for a ballpark.
4060 MS. CARSTEN: Yeah.
4061 THE CHAIRPERSON: Less than 20, the other one at a wholesale level?
4062 MS. CARSTEN: Probably, yes.
4063 THE CHAIRPERSON: But in both cases, if you couldn't get it back you sort of wrote it off, not you, but the manufacturer did?
4064 MS. CARSTEN: That's right, yes.
4065 THE CHAIRPERSON: Let's turn now to unlocking issues.
4066 And I did notice you notice -- you pointed out that restocking fees represent about $1.4 million in costs for you. What if the Commission were to say, yes, you can charge a restocking fee but you have to unlock your phones?
4067 MS. CARSTEN: I -- that would be something that we could work with.
4068 THE CHAIRPERSON: What are your current fees for unlocking?
4069 MS. CARSTEN: We charge $50 to unlock a device.
4070 THE CHAIRPERSON: And you've come to that amount based on what other competitors are charging?
4071 MS. CARSTEN: It's a blend of what other competitors charge, but it's also a cost of recovery mechanism for us due to the effort that has to be expended to manage and provide the unlock code.
4072 THE CHAIRPERSON: But I take it that the -- your costs are less than $50?
4073 MS. CARSTEN: In some instances, that is a correct statement. There's other times, though, where the customer unlocking does not go smoothly. So we would estimate in 5 to 10 percent of the time there is additional support and troubleshooting that's required to ensure that the customer's device is unlocked and functioning properly for them.
4074 THE CHAIRPERSON: And there are no instances where your costs are below what the average cost would be?
4075 MS. CARSTEN: There are instances of that as well.
4076 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay, so perhaps we should just ---
4077 MS. CARSTEN: It's a blend of all scenarios.
4078 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay, and is that fee negotiable?
4079 MS. CARSTEN: There are instances, I wouldn't necessarily say negotiable except from the perspective that there are instances where we will waive that fee for customers in different circumstances.
4080 THE CHAIRPERSON: Are your frontline employees authorized in their manuals to waive that fee in certain circumstances?
4081 MS. CARSTEN: Yes, they are.
4082 THE CHAIRPERSON: Could you undertake to provide us those circumstances through an undertaking?
4083 MS. CARSTEN: Yes, we will do that by February 16th, I presume?
4084 THE CHAIRPERSON: Yes, please.
4086 THE CHAIRPERSON: And I take it your unlocking approach is the same for subsidized and non‑subsidized devices. Is that correct?
4087 MS. CARSTEN: Correct. Yes, that's correct.
4088 THE CHAIRPERSON: And it is you as the vendor and -- that ask the manufacturers to deliver locked phones to you. Is that correct?
4089 MS. CARSTEN: Yes.
4090 THE CHAIRPERSON: And would it possible, as we've asked others, for you to undertake to provide us for 2013, '14, '15, and '16 the number of unlocking's that you've had to do and the revenues you drew from those?
4091 MS. CARSTEN: Yes, we will provide you that.
4092 THE CHAIRPERSON: For the 16th?
4093 MS. CARSTEN: Yes.
4095 THE CHAIRPERSON: You've made the case that unlocking protects you from fraud. Earlier today, Freedom testified that there is no evidence of that, that in fact that if somebody really had nefarious fraudulent intent they could easily go in a back alley. Not their words, but the suggestion is that you were going into a nefarious place to have it unlocked.
4096 So the fact that you charge or don't charge won't prevent fraudsters from operating. Is that correct?
4097 MS. CARSTEN: I think that if people are that motivated to get a device unlocked, to your point, there may be opportunities for them to do that. We do know from discussions with customers who have pursued alternate methods to unlock their devices, just for above board reasons, I'm not suggesting that it was a nefarious issue, but they do potentially run into problems with the frequency of the operating system, or issues from that perspective.
4098 They also can void their warranty when they pursue unlocking the device in that manner. So then if they have subsequent issues with their device, they then find out that their device is no longer -- has an honoured warranty because of the method they chose to pursue to unlock it.
4099 THE CHAIRPERSON: So they're captive to have them unlocked by you who sold them the phone. Is that not correct?
4100 MS. CARSTEN: They are needing to get in touch with us and us to work with them to help them unlock their device, that's correct.
4101 THE CHAIRPERSON: How is your approach consumer friendly?
4102 MS. CARSTEN: Well, we do know that a very small portion of our market has contacted us to work through unlocking their devices, and we choose a method whereby only those parties interested in unlocking their devices pay the fee to do so.
4103 The unlock fee is highlighted on the first page of our CIS that we provide to the customers, and we do cover that in them through the activation process so there's a understanding of that fee. It's our intention to make that transparent -- make that above board with the customer so they are aware of that.
4104 When you mention fraud and the 90‑day waiting period, we do believe that there is a benefit to establishing a track record with that customer and going through those three months of payments and experience with that customer that does deter a level of fraud. I wouldn't suggest to you that it removes all fraud from the marketplace, but it is one avenue we can utilize to help prevent fraud, which drives costs in the industry.
4105 THE CHAIRPERSON: So let me understand. So I've been a lifelong subscriber to SaskTel on the wireline side. When cellular phones come along, I decide to get my phone from the Crown Corporation, and you're saying that still despite those years of loyalty by that customer to you, you still think that you need the protection of a locked phone against that customer because there will somehow be a credit debt for you?
4106 MS. CARSTEN: Well, it is the policy because I can't say for certain in every instance that customer's a lifelong -- a lifetime wireline customer of SaskTel's. The 90‑day window is intended as just that, a deterrent in 90 days. Beyond that point, the customer is welcome to contact us and we will work with them to ensure that their device is unlocked.
4107 THE CHAIRPERSON: For a fee?
4108 MS. CARSTEN: Correct, to recover our costs.
4109 THE CHAIRPERSON: Subject to the negotiable exceptions that you will provide in your undertaking?
4110 MS. CARSTEN: Yes.
4111 THE CHAIRPERSON: Do you consider your unlocking fees more or less likely to contribute to a more dynamic marketplace?
4112 MS. CARSTEN: I'm not certain that it prevents any level of dynamic marketplace that we experience. We do know from the churn rates that have been discussed in this proceeding that there's a 2 percent monthly churn rate, which equates to approximately 24 percent on an annual basis, which is 1 in 4 customers choosing an alternate carrier.
4113 Twenty-five percent of our market every year, making that kind of move, would suggest to me that there is a dynamic marketplace at foot. I can quote to you different scenarios from a Saskatchewan marketplace perspective that would suggest that the competitive marketplace here in Saskatchewan is extremely aggressive, it's very healthy, and customers are able to benefit from lower rates on a monthly basis then they can experience in most parts of Canada. The rate plans here are anywhere from $35 to $100 cheaper per month then they are in the other national carriers providing, as well as our cost per gigabyte of data is far less then we’ve seen in many industry studies that have suggested otherwise about Canada.
4114 THE CHAIRPERSON: Do any operators in Saskatchewan currently not charge for unlocking?
4115 MS. CARSTEN: Not that we’re aware of.
4116 THE CHAIRPERSON: So how can ---
4117 MS. CARSTEN: Freedom Mobile doesn’t operate ---
4118 THE CHAIRPERSON: So how can you conclude that your current unlocking policies are somehow appropriate based on churn rate?
4119 We actually have no evidence of -- in that marketplace of somebody doing unlocking at zero cost to maybe illustrate that the churn rate will go up.
4120 MS. CARSTEN: Well, I guess what I can offer you, from a statistic perspective, is that approximately one percent of our customer base unlocks their device annually but in the range of 25 percent churn.
4121 THE CHAIRPERSON: But we -- but everybody’s charging an unlocking fee?
4122 MS. CARSTEN: If the customer chooses to unlock their device. If a customer has fulfilled their commitments, from a contract perspective, all of our competitors are eagerly open to welcoming them with very cheap device prices and rate plan prices in the Province of Saskatchewan, and often times that customer is looking to change their device out. They are looking to take advantage of the latest devices in the market.
4123 And when we’re running, for example, Christmas promotion in just this last Christmas 2016, a zero dollar iPhone 7 in the market was offered across the board by all of our competitors. I think that most customers, you know, may not contemplate a lot of time on unlocking their device when they’re able to get that device at zero dollars.
4124 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right. But when you’re switching you have to go to your previous supplier to get the phone unlocked; correct?
4125 MS. CARSTEN: Only if you’re not upgrading your device.
4126 I guess my comment was ---
4127 THE CHAIRPERSON: No, but if you’re crossing the street ---
4128 MS. CARSTEN: --- meaning that ---
4129 THE CHAIRPERSON: If you’re crossing the street to another provider you have to go back to your previous provider to get your phone unlocked. Is that not correct?
4130 MS. CARSTEN: If you want -- yes, if you want to continue utilizing that device that would be the case.
4131 My comment was there are zero dollar brand new devices available to them ---
4132 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right.
4133 MS. CARSTEN: --- that the new provider would give them.
4134 THE CHAIRPERSON: So when a customer churns ---
4135 MS. CARSTEN: So if you put this behind, unlocking your device is minimized.
4136 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right. So when SaskTel loses a customer to a competitor across the street because that competitor across the street is offering obviously a better deal, SaskTel squeezes out a goodbye tax from the subscriber who’s leaving SaskTel. Is that not correct?
4137 MS. CARSTEN: Not -- if they don’t ask to have the device unlocked there is no squeezing out fee.
4138 THE CHAIRPERSON: You -- at paragraph 17 of your oral presentation, and I quote:
4139 “Charging an unlocking fee is appropriately left up to the service provider as they respond to consumer feedback...”
4140 Could you explain to me what consumer feedback is justifying you to have an unlocking fee?
4141 MR. VORRIETER: So the way I read this is that we’re not saying that consumer feedback is demanding that there be an unlocking fee. What we’re saying is that there’s consumer uproar, that would need to be looked at, and we would need to look at a different way of recovering those costs possibly.
4142 All we’re saying is there’s not a lot -- this is not really a big issue with our customers, at least not one that’s been brought to our CSR’s attention and then raised through to us.
4143 THE CHAIRPERSON: Would you agree with me that as we have -- you’ve mentioned this 24 percent annual churn rate that -- but for one wireless service provider in this country, as the incumbent service providers -- wireless service providers are losing to churn their customers who might want to use a device that lives for longer than two years, it’s a pretty nice deal to be pocketing a goodbye tax on every subscriber that decides to churn. Do you agree with that?
4144 MS. CARSTEN: No, because not -- the majority of customers are not endeavouring to unlock their devices, if I’m understanding your question right.
4145 THE CHAIRPERSON: Because you all, as marketing, are telling everybody they need the nicest and best even though the last phone is still perfectly operative. Are you saying that you’re selling phones that don’t last more than two years?
4146 MS. CARSTEN: No, we’re not saying that.
4147 THE CHAIRPERSON: So why wouldn’t a reasonable consumer ---
4148 MS. CARSTEN: The comment was that ---
4149 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- want to unlock their phone to use it with a better price at the competitor across the street?
4150 MS. CARSTEN: I’m not suggesting they wouldn’t want to use their device. Our rate plans are competitive in the Saskatchewan marketplace, and we have rate plans that differentiate because our competitors aren’t currently offering them.
4151 So what I’m suggesting to you is that we offer customers a compelling reason to stay with us and we’re very proud of our customer focus and how we pursue retaining our customers.
4152 There are customers that choose to churn for a number of different reasons, and we work with those should they wish to unlock their device.
4153 I believe we’ve mentioned as part of this conversation that we would be open to looking at the unlocking fee if there was a restocking fee available for us to be charging.
4154 So I think that we’re just simply looking to recover our costs to help the customer work through unlocking that device, and the databases we maintain, helping customers through that process, working through and troubleshooting with them.
4155 So this is not a tax that we would be applying to the customer but more a fee that’s charged because there is a great deal of effort that goes into that for us as a corporation.
4156 MR. BECKMAN: And this is on the CIS. The customers are advised of this at the time that they make their purchase. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to them if they decide that they want to take that phone and marry a different service providers’ contract for service to that phone.
4157 THE CHAIRPERSON: And what would you think of the idea, since it is in the CIS, that, like the other aspects of the cancellation fee, that the opening -- your $50 unlocking fee would be subject to amortization over the 24-month life of the contract to get to zero after 24 months?
4158 MS. CARSTEN: Okay. I would suggest that that may be difficult to implement because we only want that fee to be associated with the customer that proceeds with unlocking their device. So if it is amortized over that period of time the customer -- I assume you mean that all customers would be paying that as part of that early termination or ---
4159 THE CHAIRPERSON: Well ---
4160 MS. CARSTEN: I don’t know how we would determine who might ---
4161 THE CHAIRPERSON: Well, answer both ---
4162 MS. CARSTEN: --- unlock it in the future.
4163 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- hypothesis, whether it’s all or just the person who’s asking.
4164 MS. CARSTEN: If it’s just the person whose asking then that wouldn’t be an issue for us. We want to avoid charging anything to customers who aren’t pursuing an unlocking of their device.
4165 THE CHAIRPERSON: So you’re saying to me that ---
4166 MS. CARSTEN: We only want to charge those customers who do.
4167 THE CHAIRPERSON: So you’re saying that you’d be willing for somebody after 24 months to provide an unlocking at zero dollars?
4168 MS. CARSTEN: No, that wasn’t my intention for that to be the understanding of what I said. What I mean is that we only want to charge customers who choose to unlock their device based on the effort we need to take to facilitate that for them.
4169 THE CHAIRPERSON: With respect to data, is it a -- considered in your Critical Information Summary as an essential element to the contract or is it an add-on?
4170 MR. VORRIETER: In our territory here data is included in the plan itself. And if I can just use one example, our most recent plan it’s unlimited data, in that particular case we would consider that data to be a key element of that plan for that customer. We wouldn’t be able to change that, say, for example, from unlimited to bringing it down to 15 gigabytes. We would consider that to be a key term. For us to be able to do that we would need to go back to the customer and obtain their consent.
4171 We do have other data options, such as the roaming option we spoke of to the U.S. where the customer is able to add that on and take it off at will. That would not be considered to be a key term of that particular customer’s agreement.
4172 THE CHAIRPERSON: How can data not be a key term of a contract in 2017 after the Commission has rendered its basic service decision?
4173 MR. VORRIETER: I apologize if I wasn’t clear on that.
4174 We are saying that when you subscribe to a plan at SaskTel and it includes data, and in our case it could be unlimited -- we also have plans that do have limited amounts, whether it’s 10 gigabyte or 15 gigabytes, we do consider that to be a key term for that particular plan.
4175 THE CHAIRPERSON: I see.
4176 MR. VORRIETER: And it would be ---
4177 THE CHAIRPERSON: So whether it’s limited or not it is a -- data is always a key term.
4178 MS. CARSTEN: M-hm. Yeah. Yes.
4179 MR. VORRIETER: Data is always a key term. If you have the ability to -- that’s correct. If the customer has the ability to add data on such as a roaming package to go to the U.S. for five days and then remove it, we would not consider that particular one to be a key term.
4180 THE CHAIRPERSON: Would you agree with me that if phones were more readily unlocked, a consumer rather than getting this $3 a day package from you for roaming in the United States or perhaps a higher price for roaming elsewhere could actually insert a SIM card from a foreign carrier?
4181 MS. CARSTEN: We do as part of our process that we communicate to customers when they contact us with regards to international roaming and the rates, we do make it available to them to unlock their device. There is that fee associated with it but it is a one-time fee and it is a permanent unlock for that device so that they can do exactly what you reference by picking up a SIM in an international destination and utilizing those local rates that would be cheaper for them.
4182 THE CHAIRPERSON: So how much is that unlocking fee?
4183 MS. CARSTEN: It’s the same fee.
4184 THE CHAIRPERSON: So $50?
4185 MS. CARSTEN: One time based on the same cost structure that we will provide you with information about.
4186 THE CHAIRPERSON: So if in December 2016 I was going down to the United States on holidays I’d pay $50 and if I was going 3 months later again and I want to use a SIM card option to manage my fees I’d have to pay another $50; is that correct?
4187 MS. CARSTEN: No, no, you only pay the one time and then that device is unlocked. And every subsequent trip you make, regardless of what country you go to, you don’t have to pay again to unlock that device. It’s permanently unlocked.
4188 THE CHAIRPERSON: Even in Canada?
4189 MS. CARSTEN: Yes.
4190 THE CHAIRPERSON: So it’s not just a roaming option. You’d be unlocked forever?
4191 MS. CARSTEN: Correct.
4192 THE CHAIRPERSON: So why would somebody going down to the United States let’s say for, I don’t know, 2 weeks of holidays not pay $50 rather than 2 weeks at $3?
4193 MS. CARSTEN: Well, I think that there’s additional effort that the customer has to expend when they arrive in whatever country, whether it’s U.S. or otherwise, to go to get a SIM inserted, work through that process. We have some very reasonable rates for customers particularly to the United States. So depending on how much they want to use their device they may not need to pursue that alternative.
4194 THE CHAIRPERSON: So your $3 rate is for the U.S. What would it be for other destinations?
4195 MS. CARSTEN: Well, we have different rates depending on the international locations and those are dictated by the carrier agreements that we’re able to negotiate.
4196 THE CHAIRPERSON: What are they currently lowest to highest?
4197 MS. CARSTEN: In some instances ---
4198 THE CHAIRPERSON: What’s the range lowest to highest?
4199 MS. CARSTEN: Lowest to -- the lowest range speaking from a data perspective is $.30 meg of data internationally and the highest is 15 ---
4200 THE CHAIRPERSON: No, I mean if you wanted to buy a ---
4201 MS. CARSTEN: --- dollars.
4202 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- your plan, the equivalent to the one, the $3 one in the U.S.
4203 MS. CARSTEN: We don’t have a daily pass for international destinations. We have monthly add-ons and it varies depending on the country.
4204 THE CHAIRPERSON: Your pass is strictly for the United States; is that correct?
4205 MS. CARSTEN: That’s correct, yes.
4206 THE CHAIRPERSON: And I put it to you it’s because you actually know exactly how much it’s going to cost you.
4207 MS. CARSTEN: We have agreements that enable us from a carrier perspective to run economics that aren’t usage based in every scenario so we are able to come to a daily pass rate for the United States that we aren’t able to do internationally.
4208 THE CHAIRPERSON: With respect to subsidies it’s been suggested by ---
4209 MR. BECKMAN: So ---
4210 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- some in this proceeding that ---
4211 MR. BECKMAN: If I might add ---
4212 THE CHAIRPERSON: Sorry? Yes.
4213 MR. BECKMAN: I was just going to say that different -- when you say that we know exactly what it’s going to cost us, I think we have experience with what it would cost us as a pool of users. We don’t know what it’s going to cost us with respect to any particular user being that they may choose to -- or the areas that they’re getting serviced may not be provided -- have service coverage by certain carriers where we’ve got lower rates than others.
4214 MS. CARSTEN: Right.
4215 MR. BECKMAN: So any particular user we don’t know. They might be high cost user. But as a pool we have a general idea ---
4216 MS. CARSTEN: Yes.
4217 MR. BECKMAN: --- about what that cost experience is likely to look like.
4218 THE CHAIRPERSON: As is the case across all your retail services.
4219 MR. BECKMAN: And when we’re looking at these things -- when we’re looking at things -- these things, we’re looking at them as a pool. And the hypothesis or the scenarios that you’re presenting to us are often in the case of an individual. So I just want to ---
4220 THE CHAIRPERSON: Right.
4221 MR. BECKMAN: --- make sure that there’s an understanding that there is a difference there.
4222 THE CHAIRPERSON: Fair enough. And you’re hoping that more people will take the $3 a day but actually they’re -- they would be even better off to actually roam.
4223 MR. BECKMAN: Well, the whole economic -- the consumer that makes a decision based only on the cost of that particular transaction doesn’t, in my opinion, exist all that often. They look at another -- a bunch of other factors such as ease of use, continuity of the service after they return from the place that they are roaming at, the availability of other tools in -- when they’re in their home location, the availability of other services when they’re home location.
4224 So if all you’re doing is looking at that individual should I -- what should I pay when I go to the U.S. transaction, I would suggest that there’s not a lot of consumers that look like that -- look at it in that limited perspective. They look at the whole package. And what we’re trying to do is to provide a service that meets that whole customer’s needs.
4225 THE CHAIRPERSON: And I’m sure you’re out there helping your customer making choices. I put it to you that you’re actually trying to push the one that makes more revenues for SaskTel, as every other carrier is trying to do.
4226 MS. CARSTEN: I think that it’s important to us to find the solution that meets our customer’s needs so that they will be satisfied with the service they experience with SaskTel and that they will be long-term customers of ours.
4227 THE CHAIRPERSON: It’s been suggested on the record that -- by some and proposed that there should be a clear break between the device subsidies and the telecommunication service that ensures more transparency and Canadians will better understand exactly what they’re getting. What is your view on that?
4228 MS. CARSTEN: Our rate plan prices that we offer in the market today are not based on the subsidy that’s provided to the customer for the device that they receive. The subsidy that we offer to our customer changes -- can change dramatically or change over time and we do not adjust our rate plan pricing in light of that.
4229 An example would be that iPhone 7 that was $0 through the Christmas season, we didn’t adjust our rate plans to accommodate that increased subsidy that was provided to customers to put that device in their hand at that price.
4230 Customers choose their device separately from the rate plan. We provide customers the flexibility to freely adjust the rate plan that they subscribe to with us and make it -- whether that be adjust up for additional usage that they may want to have or adjust down because they’re not using the device as much as they thought they would. And that is in no way tied to what device they choose or what subsidy they receive from us. So therefore, we don’t have a tie between the subsidy amount and the monthly recurring charge for the customer.
4231 THE CHAIRPERSON: But you would agree with me that in the minds of some Canadians, subscribers to SaskTel, that the 24-month commitment is somehow cross-subsidizing the device that you’re, in that particular case, offering at $0? And they wonder why at the end of the contract their price -- their rate does not go down.
4232 MS. CARSTEN: There is feedback from this proceeding that has said that customers at times have that perception, yes.
4233 THE CHAIRPERSON: And what do you tell them?
4234 MS. CARSTEN: Well, we tell them similarly to what I have shared with you today that the device is -- for a commitment to us we will subsidize that device for them because we can count on them being a customer of ours for that period of time and it provides us with that commitment from them. So we -- it affords us the opportunity to provide them with a subsidy.
4235 The rate plan that they choose from us, they have the flexibility to make adjustments, as I’ve mentioned. It is factored into affording us the ability to expand and provide the wireless coverage that we have in the province of Saskatchewan and make the technology advancements that we make which include adding additional capacity and speed to the wireless network, the level of customer’s experience that we provide them and the number of locations we make available to them to do business with us. These are all elements that are taken into account when we build our rate plans to ensure that we can provide customers with all of those elements.
4236 On top of all of that, I’ve mentioned before about the rate plan pricing that is available and that customers benefit from in the Province of Saskatchewan that are vastly reduced from other parts of the country. And all those elements are taken into account when we strike a balance of what that rate plan cost is for our customers.
4237 THE CHAIRPERSON: With respect to implementation, would you agree with me that the last time the Commission -- when the Commission adopted the Code it did signal that it would be reviewing the Code after three years and that it shouldn't come to you as a surprise that there would be changes to the Code as a result of this proceeding?
4238 MR. BECKMAN: We'd agree that this is no surprise that the proceeding is going on and would agree that it's no surprise if the Commission makes a determination that some changes are required.
4239 THE CHAIRPERSON: And in fact, you've proposed some changes?
4240 MR. BECKMAN: Yes, we have.
4241 THE CHAIRPERSON: And ---
4242 MR. BECKMAN: We don't know whether we will succeed with those proposals, but we have proposed some changes.
4243 THE CHAIRPERSON: But would it be correct to assume that knowing that there were likely to be changes that you organized your systems and affairs to minimize the time to implement such changes?
4244 MR. BECKMAN: I would say that we did not organize our systems and affairs to anticipate any -- or to -- in anticipation of any particular changes. However, our systems and -- our systems have limitations within which we must work but our affairs, which would be our operating procedures, are -- have been organized where we would be able to look at making some resources available to make changes.
4245 THE CHAIRPERSON: If I was a shareholder of SaskTel, I'd be concerned that you did not make reasonable arrangements to minimize the impact on the value of the company in light of potential and perhaps even likely regulatory changes?
4246 MR. BECKMAN: I would agree, but as a shareholder of SaskTel, if I was one, I would expect that the limited capital that is made available for investments is going to be used in a way that maximizes the return from the investments as well as reaches as far into the customer use as is possible, and that a balance was struck between allocating capital for that and allocating capital and resources for making regulatory changes.
4247 We don't know what the regulatory changes are. We know that it's likely that some will be required and that we have made some, what are resources available for that.
4248 Certainly, as a shareholder of SaskTel, I would expect that management makes those decisions based upon its best understanding of what kind of revenue, and return opportunities are available, and what kind of costs and cost pressures need to be met.
4249 THE CHAIRPERSON: As you review the proposals in this proceeding, are there any that you could not accommodate within a six‑month timeline, assuming that they were implemented?
4250 MR. BECKMAN: So some of the difficulty we've had here is that in areas where there are certain common proposals the -- or -- in an area of concern or where there might be changes, there's been a number of different ways that that proposal might be implemented. So it's difficult for us to determine exactly where the Commission might come to rest in respect of those changes.
4251 Our estimate is that we should be able to, depending upon the kinds of decisions that make all of the changes, six months, give or take, and that -- but that depends a lot on the extent of the changes that are required.
4252 THE CHAIRPERSON: Perhaps you could identify one or two changes that you think you could not accommodate within the six month? I did not add give or take.
4253 MR. BECKMAN: The notifications would be a potential issue for us.
4254 THE CHAIRPERSON: Which notifications?
4255 MR. BECKMAN: It would be the longer -- they'd be the longer pole on the tent, I think.
4256 THE CHAIRPERSON: Any notification?
4257 MR. BECKMAN: Sorry, we've identified a couple of areas with respect to implementation we think we might have difficulty achieving within that six month timeframe, is if there are going to be changes to consent on who consents for additional usage within the plans, we think might be one area. And then, of course, that depends on the wording that comes out in the decision and how we could implement that.
4258 And the other one that we have identified as a potential issue is if we're going to split the device from the rate plan and then display that on the customer's contract and ultimately have to display that on the customer's bill itself.
4259 So those are a couple of areas that we have identified as potentially taking longer than the six months.
4260 THE CHAIRPERSON: Would you like to go through an undertaking to identify anything that would, in your view, require more than six months?
4261 MR. BECKMAN: Well, we're dealing with hypotheticals in that undertaking. If you were to give us the specific ---
4262 THE CHAIRPERSON: If you really want a big of homework ---
4263 MR. BECKMAN: --- perhaps we could look at it ---
4264 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- I can tell you take every single proposal in this proceeding and tell me exactly how long each would take to implement. If you want to go that way, we can do it that way.
4265 MR. BECKMAN: I don't want to go that way. What I would like to do is to be helpful, and if you would like us to be helpful, we can provide you with a description of the issues that we would be facing. Would that be helpful? All I can say that if your ---
4266 THE CHAIRPERSON: With respect to specific proposals that have been discussed in this proceeding, yes. Can you do that? Do you undertake to do that?
4267 MR. BECKMAN: We can provide you with our ---
4268 THE CHAIRPERSON: You see ---
4269 MR. BECKMAN: --- those areas ---
4270 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- as I've said to others, it's the Commission that decides. You do not get a veto saying oh, I -- we can't do that.
4271 We've gone through this last time. You know perfectly well. With you, in particular.
4272 MR. BECKMAN: I'm not trying to veto anything, Mr. Chairman. What I'm trying to do is to understand what it is and to -- that you would like us to do as part of this.
4273 THE CHAIRPERSON: I would like to ---
4274 MR. BECKMAN: So ---
4275 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- my question was are there any changes in this process that you do not think, from a system or other perspective, that you could not implement within a six month time period after the date of the decision.
4276 MR. BECKMAN: We could -- we are able to accommodate, with the exception of two that I've identified -- we've identified here, we waive that we can accommodate the other changes that may come about.
4277 THE CHAIRPERSON: So you don't want to undertake to do any more analysis? If you think that's your complete answer.
4278 MR. BECKMAN: Well, we can talk. We can send -- we can also provide, with respect to those two areas which we've described, those changes which would provide us with difficulties in meeting the six months. So we can -- within those two areas, we can describe that.
4279 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. For the 16th?
4280 MR. BECKMAN: Yes.
4282 THE CHAIRPERSON: The -- what is your current -- and that, the implementation, in your view, should apply to the entire subscriber base, regardless of where they are in their contract?
4283 MR. BECKMAN: That might be one of the things that we have to address in the undertaking. We will be exploring that, so that's -- for this purpose, we'll have to look at that.
4284 THE CHAIRPERSON: And you might want to provide ---
4285 MR. BECKMAN: Some of those, I think the changes that -- yeah, for the things that are not within the two areas we're talking about, we should be able to make those changes.
4286 THE CHAIRPERSON: And provide justifications ---
4287 MR. BECKMAN: And we'll look at what happens.
4288 THE CHAIRPERSON: And you can provide justifications why it shouldn't apply to the entire customer base; correct?
4289 MR. BECKMAN: Yes.
4290 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
4291 I take it you currently are in compliance with the CCTS Participation Agreement requiring you to inform complaining subscribers after the second level?
4292 MR. BECKMAN: Yes, we are.
4293 THE CHAIRPERSON: And would you see any objection ---
4294 MR. BECKMAN: We have ---
4295 THE CHAIRPERSON: Yeah, sorry. And you have systems in place to monitor that?
4296 MR. BECKMAN: I was just going to add to that -- we have policies, procedures in place to ensure that our staff align to that requirement. We also have within our customer care centre systems that track escalated customer complaints. And when we do reach the point where our managers are to advise the customer that they can complain to the CCTS, there's a system-generated message that the manager does see so that they can in tern relay that to the customer.
4297 And in terms of your question about do we have an issue or problem in making that a part of the Code, no we don’t.
4298 THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
4299 In your oral presentation, you mentioned some difficulties you have with the CCTS’ interpretation of certain aspects of the Code when they operationalize it, have you sought in the past to discuss proposed -- what you’re proposing or your marketing department is proposing, changes in the wireless area and discussing ahead of time, before you get complaints, with the CCTS on how they would see certain issues?
4300 MR. VORRIETER: We have a very limited opportunity to talk about specifics of complaints with the CCTS.
4301 THE CHAIRMAN: I’m not talking ---
4302 MR. VORRIETER: Last year we had 84 complaints.
4303 THE CHAIRMAN: I’m talking before you implement let’s say a new plan, a new approach, a new initiative, a new campaign, have you flown it by the CCTS to see if that might create issues for you? In an anticipatory way, before you get a complaint.
4304 MR. VORRETIER: Yeah, I would say we haven’t done that at this point, no.
4305 THE CHAIRMAN: Is there anything that prevents you from doing that?
4306 MR. VORRETIER: I would say there’s nothing that would prevent us from doing that.
4307 THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
4308 My last question deals with -- you’re familiar with CRTC Exhibit number 1?
4309 MS. LaMONTAGNE: Yes.
4310 THE CHAIRMAN: And could you undertake ---
4311 MR. BECKMAN: Yes, we are.
4312 THE CHAIRMAN: And you can undertake to provide the answers to those questions relevant to SaskTel for February 16th?
4313 MR. VORRETIER: Yes.
4314 MS. CARSTEN: Yes.
4316 THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
4317 Let me turn to my colleagues to see if they have questions. None. Legal? None.
4318 Thank you very much. Thank you for participating from our offices in Saskatchewan. Thank you very much. In Regina, more specifically. Thank you.
4319 MR. BECKMAN: Thank you.
4320 MR. VORRETIER: Thank you.
4321 THE CHAIRMAN: So we will take a 15-minutes break, more so -- more or less, until about 4 o’clock. Thank you very much.
--- Upon recessing at 3:42 p.m.
--- Upon resuming at 3:59 p.m.
4322 THE CHAIRMAN: À l’ordre. Order, please. Madame la secrétaire?
4323 THE SECRETARY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We will now hear the presentation by Forum for Research and Policy in Communications.
4324 Please introduce yourselves first for the record. You have 20 minutes.
4325 MS. AUER: Thank you, Madam Secretary. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners.
4326 My name is Monica Auer and I’m the Executive Director of the Forum and senior counsel in this proceeding. I am joined by Ms. Cynthia Khoo, our outside junior counsel.
4327 We acknowledge that this hearing is taking place on unceded Algonquin territory.
4328 The Forum appreciated the CRTC’s invitation to appear here today. Our remarks address two issues: the Code’s effectiveness since 2013 and some suggested changes that in our view would make the Code more effective.
4329 In thinking about the Code’s effectiveness in general, the Forum agrees that it has set some reasonable limits that benefit Canadian wireless users, who would otherwise still face three-year contracts and arbitrary early cancellation fees. These limits should not be reduced or relaxed.
4330 The Commission set other purposes for the Code as well, however. When it introduced the idea in 2012, it said the Code would set out consumers’ rights and wireless service providers’ responsibilities.
4331 When it published the Code in 2013, the CRTC said it would set a baseline for industry behaviour and inform consumers of their rights and their responsibilities.
4332 Telecom Notice 2016-293 reframed these goals again. It said the Code would make it easier for wireless users to obtain and understand the information in their wireless service contracts, establish consumer-friendly business practices for the wireless service industry where necessary, and contribute to a more dynamic wireless market.
4333 The Code has changed, then, from being a “consumers’ bill of rights” to a “did you know” guide that may also stimulate dynamism in the wireless market.
4334 Purposes that shift over time confuse rather than clarify and impair rather than enable meaningful evaluation.
4335 In our view, the Code should include a specific statement of its purposes. It should clarify wireless users’ rights, define wireless service providers’ basic responsibilities and inform wireless users about the process they should follow to protect their rights.
4336 Moving to the specific purposes of the Code today, 2016-293 has asked if consumers are informed, if business practices are consumer friendly, and if the wireless market is more dynamic.
4337 Informed consumers matter because, in an ideal world, all are perfectly informed about every thing and every service they buy, and all make very rational purchasing decisions.
4338 They shop comparatively, they negotiate contracts for their benefit and they switch providers for better treatment. Informed consumers strengthen competition.
4339 Unfortunately, Canada’s wireless market cannot benefit from informed consumers because, as survey after survey has shown, most Canadians are unaware of the Code and how it might help them.
4340 The CRTC’s surveys found that in Spring 2016 44 percent of Canadians recalled hearing or seeing something about the Code.
4341 We suspect this overestimates Canadians’ familiarity with the Code. Even if some recall hearing about it, it is very likely that very few have actually read it.
4342 The Code was also supposed to promote more consumer-friendly business practices by wireless service providers. One might argue that these are more consumer friendly these days, because the CCTS’ 2016 annual report shows that it accepted 27 percent fewer complaints in 2016 than in 2014.
4343 Falling numbers of complaints may mean that people have fewer concerns about wireless service, but could also mean that wireless users remain unaware of their rights under the Code, given that most are unaware of the Code itself.
4344 Surveys of wireless users are measuring users’ perceptions of their experience, however, rather than providers’ actual practices.
4345 For this reason, the Forum believes that significant weight should be given to the evidence from the Union des consommateurs and the University of Ottawa’s legal researchers, who sent mystery shoppers to service providers to evaluate their practices.
4346 While the researchers did encounter friendly practices, they also described unfriendly practices that disadvantaged users and at times included suspicion and hostility.
4347 The result, then, of the Code here today in 2017 is that while some of the most onerous consumer practices in the sector have been terminated, business practices still remain more provider friendly, than user friendly.
4348 Finally, the Code was supposed to encourage a more dynamic market in wireless service. Measuring dynamism is difficult, especially with the limits on scope set by 2016-293.
4349 That said, all three pureplay wireless providers have disappeared since its establishment. Rogers bought and shut down Mobilicity; TELUS bought and shut down Public Mobile; and Shaw acquired WIND. MTS may soon disappear from the regional market and SaskTel may follow suit.
4350 As for average revenue per user, it rose for Telus and Bell after the Code’s introduction, but fell for MTS and Rogers. It’s not clear what those changes mean.
4351 It is difficult to see how the Code has improved dynamism in Canada’s wireless service market when there are fewer competitors and in the absence of a direct link between the Code and average revenue per user.
4352 MS. KHOO: Changing the Code could make it more useful. The Forum has several proposals for the
4353 short term.
4354 First, it is difficult for wireless users to bargain effectively when they are unaware of their rights. Given that awareness of the Code is low, the Forum believes that those who do bargain are in the minority.
4355 To strengthen bargaining power for the majority, the Code should be changed to ensure that it accompanies all wireless contracts, unless an account holder expressly declines to receive it.
4356 The Code should also clarify that wireless service providers cannot use contractual fine print to have customers waive their Code rights. This would stop consumers from inadvertently agreeing to overage charges or to electronic rather than paper copies.
4357 Second, as the Union des consommateurs, the Coalition, the University of Ottawa legal researchers and accessibility organizations have recommended, the Code should require service providers to make the Critical Information Summary or CIS, available to consumers before they sign their contract.
4358 The Forum believes that most Canadians would see this as a very helpful step and that it would empower them in their negotiations with wireless service providers.
4359 Once agreements are signed, the Code should clarify that the CIS must physically precede the contract itself in the documentation given to customers.
4360 The Code should also require providers to mention their own internal complaints mechanism in customer invoices, along with the existence of the Code and of the CCTS.
4361 Wireless users who subsequently decide to cancel their contracts should not be required to return the incentives or other promotions offered to them by wireless service providers.
4362 The Forum believes that most Canadians would agree with this suggestion, as its real impact would be to add barriers to switching which is what the 2013 Code tried to reduce.
4363 Some companies have argued that bill shock is no longer a problem. The Forum believes that bill shock remains a problem for a significant proportion of Canadians and for this reason the Code’s current limits should not be changed.
4364 The evidence is clear that Canadians’ use of data has changed significantly in the past few years.
4365 Over the same period, many providers have also made data an add-on or optional service, removing data as a key term.
4366 This permits them to change data fees or allowances unilaterally, a consumer-unfriendly practice that may explain why, in 2016, data usage accounted for nearly 40 percent of bill shock among users.
4367 The Code should make data a key term of wireless service contracts and the CRTC should review contracts annually to report whether other key contract elements are being mislabelled as add-on or optional services.
4368 The Forum has also argued that the Code should be changed to distinguish between account holders and wireless users and believes that most Canadians would agree on that basis that decisions to approve additional charges should be made by those who pay the bills.
4369 However, discussions at this hearing have reminded us that there can be many important reasons for ensuring that users and not just account holders are notified when limits are being approached.
4370 For instance, data from Statistics Canada shows that in 2014 760,000 people reported experiencing physical or sexual abuse by their spousal partner in the previous 5 years, and 32 percent of police reported family violence involved children with abusive relatives. Thus notifying users as well as account holders when cell phone limits are being approached would enable users in vulnerable situations to manage their use to ensure they can contact help when needed.
4371 The Forum also agrees with CCTS and the Coalition that recent service plans amounting to post-paid plans charged on a prepaid service are cause for concern. While prepaid and post-paid services have some differences, their users face similar risks in obtaining services from wireless service providers and deserve the same level of protection. This includes the offer of the CIS before agreements are signed, the provision of a print or electronic copy of any contract and certainty regarding key terms and conditions.
4372 Moving to device management issues, the Code now allows wireless service providers to mingle the sale of wireless service with the sale of wireless goods. Some wireless users pay for their devices through their contracts, but those who bring their own devices do not receive a commensurate discount for buying wireless service alone.
4373 Unbundling wireless services and device sales could reduce switching costs and strengthen market dynamism. At minimum, the Code should require wireless service providers to reflect the full discount for user own devices in their service contracts and clarify that wireless users do not have to renew their contracts just to replace their devices.
4374 The Code should also address unlocking fees as these create barriers to switching, constraining market dynamics. The Forum believes that the majority of Canadians would support limits to such fees. In our view, the Code should clarify that service providers may not add discriminatory charges for unlocking based on credit standing.
4375 MS. AUER: Last we would like to address some longer term issues related to evaluating the Code and consumer awareness.
4376 The Forum supports a second review of the Code in three years concurrent with a review of CCTS. That said, an evaluation in the future based on the same level of knowledge about the Code’s impact in this proceeding would be an exercise in frustration. Limiting access to information about their -- about complaints and their outcomes to providers in CCTS makes evaluation of the Code a bit of a guessing game at best and not very meaningful at worst.
4377 The CRTC should create a publically accessible system, a Wireless Code complaints portal, if you will, to track and report on all Wireless Code issues. The raw data collected and published by this portal would not only identify -- would not identify individual wireless users but would document complaints about non-compliance with the Code. The findings and the outcomes in each case should be accessible to all.
4378 We also support the ongoing annual use of mystery shopper tests and methodologically stronger surveys to evaluate and track the Code’s effectiveness over time. And we believe that the CRTC could and should also publish regular information bulletins about Code outcomes at least annually. Press coverage of those bulletins would inform consumers and would also promote systemic compliance.
4379 Systemic compliance matters because the Code is now being implemented essentially one complaint at a time. The result can be inequitable. The Code has -- can and has benefited those with the patience, tenacity, time and energy to divert to their separate complaints, escalating their problems through each of the necessary levels to seek a resolution. But those who lack patience, tenacity, time and energy may never see their concerns addressed, even though they may continue, perhaps unjustly, to enrich their providers.
4380 The current approach to enforcement is also somewhat inefficient, effectively requiring millions of individual users to inform and fight for themselves at each step of the process. It must be frustrating as well for CCTS and wireless providers to hear and identify the same problems year in and year out.
4381 Even more importantly, solving individual user’s complaints one-by-one instead of correcting systemic problems means that not just -- means not just that Canadians are not equally well-served by their telecommunications system but they are -- but that they are experiencing tiered access to justice.
4382 CCTS does not currently have the authority to issue directions to all wireless service providers to correct consumer unfriendly practices, and its role in any case is out of scope of this proceeding. For that reason, the Forum recommends that the CRTC issue perhaps an annual list of the major problems of which it is aware in wireless service, along with the best practices that it recommends to address those problems. Annual systemic level reviews and guidance would be one way of ensuring that all users are treated well by their wireless service providers.
4383 MS. KHOO: In conclusion, the Forum has been encouraged to note that both the panel and wireless service providers recognize the necessity of potential to change certain aspects of the Code after this review.
4384 As the CRTC recently pointed out, on the broadcasting side in Regulatory Policy 2016334, “no one has a vested right in the continuance of a regulatory regime as it exists at a given moment.” The Forum believes that the millions of people who rely on key 21st century communications have a right to clear, transparent and fair treatment from the providers in accessing Canada’s telecommunication’s system.
4385 MS. AUER: Thank you for your time, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Commission staff. We’d be pleased to answer any questions you have.
4386 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. Commissioner Simpson will start us off. MacDonald, sorry. I was reading something else at the same time.
4387 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Simpson missed his flight.
4388 Thank you very much for being here today and for your presentation.
4389 Since we’re all collectively on this road together of trying to improve the effectiveness of the Code, I’d like to ask in your initial intervention you submitted 22 different recommendations. And I’m curious as to how you came up with that number. We interviewed another consumer group and they had 13 recommendations. Are your 22 -- what are they based on? Are they based on the most egregious complaints that you’ve seen come from Canadians against service providers? Are they based on volume of complaints? How did you land on these specific recommendations?
4390 MS. AUER: The recommendations were triggered by our analysis, first of all, of the CRTC’s notice of consultation; but then secondly, our analysis of the available data; and then third, our review of the different survey materials made available by the different parties including the Commission, evaluating what is changing over time, what is not changing over time. Presumably, if Canadians continue to have the same levels of frustration with certain aspects of their wireless service and their wireless service providers, could mean that the Code itself could be changed to reduce that frustration.
4391 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Thank you. Let’s start off with bill shock because that’s still a major concern for individuals. They may manage their usage or deny themself usage to ensure that they don’t get hit with overage charges. What are your thoughts on how the usage should be calculated given the increased reliance that Canadians have on shared and family plans? How should usage be calculated? Should it be on an individual line basis or an overall bucket of data allotment for a larger family plan?
4392 MS. KHOO: I think in the specific ways they’re calculated it’s fine for the company to offer a choice to the customer because for some we can imagine it would be -- make more sense to be on a bucket plan. For instance, if they’re parents with young children who have phones then that would make sense. But for a small business, for instance, a bucket plan might make less sense if you want to have more time and less employees, for instance.
4393 I think where the calculation and the multiple lines versus individual lines is more pertinent is when it comes to overage data where do you have the $50 cap per line, the $50 cap per account. And when it comes to that, we think it should be a $50 cap for the whole account.
4394 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And does your viewpoint change at all if we’re talking about a family plan versus a multi-line plan that may be employed by -- may be used by a small business?
4395 MS. AUER: I think in the case of the family plan we look at it as a single unit and we suspect that most families do as well. In other words, they see their plan as a single thing. So to have a $50 fee on each line would probably present them with a bit of a surprise, unless, of course, it were very, very clearly laid out to them at the time of discussing the terms of the contract.
4396 As for businesses, I suspect it would depend on the needs and nature of the business itself, whether it’s willing to assume the risk for each of its employees or whether it would like to perhaps introduce another type of cap. Presumably that might be kind of part of a negotiation process.
4397 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: I’m going to quote you for a moment from your original intervention.
4398 “An emerging problem is that the user who is made aware and consents to the additional charges in a shared or family plan is not necessarily the person that pays the bill and that leads to bill shock.”
4399 So what are your thoughts on who should be allowed to consent to that plan and what, if any, variability or individuality should be customized to allow users to choose the solution that best fits their needs?
4400 MS. AUER: I don’t know if Cynthia has anything to add at this point.
4401 I think our view is that both parties involved in the contract should receive notification. Certainly the person who is ultimately responsible for the contract, having signed it, should be aware of what’s happening with respect to his or her liabilities under that contract. As for the user, of course the user should also receive a notice, but it seems inequitable to us to only inform the user.
4402 And I think we heard an earlier example of the case where a user might authorize charges while his or her parent, the person who signed the account, is actually unavailable to give the consent one way or the other. I’m just unclear how the person who has not signed the contract, who is not responsible for its liabilities, for its obligations, is allowed to override the terms of the contract. It’s unclear to me. And, as I said, I believe our intervention proposed that both parties should be notified, and I think we continue to hold that view.
4404 MS. KHOO: Sure. So you could probably see that I think our thinking evolved a little bit on that particular issue over the course of this proceeding.
4405 So in the written intervention when it first started off it completely made sense that the account holder should be the one notified. They’re the ones who ends up paying the bill. And with all the stories in the news going on that’s the particular focus that’s caught a lot of attention.
4406 But over the course of this proceeding with discussions such as emancipated minors, and I think Rogers mentioned the example of the stranded teenager or the lost little boy who -- it does make sense that the user has that knowledge and control over their device, over their communications, it’s a form a -- it’s a type of lifeline. So the idea that another individual could suddenly cut them off of it may also be problematic. So it makes sense that both individuals would be notified.
4407 And if the concern is that someone -- like the CBC story -- could take a phone, authorize new charges, and with the account holder (inaudible), there are solutions. So, for example, one way that could be addressed is where the user is notified at, say -- not at $50 but, say, at $40, or, say, 90 percent of the data’s use. So at least at that point the user knows they have this much left to go and can start managing at that point.
4408 The other option is once they hit $50 you don’t notify the account holder at that point you notify the user at that point and ask if they want to authorize overage. However, you limit that overage. Maybe you only give them one gigabyte for instance, or maybe its $10 worth of overage, and after that additional $10 is used up then you have to notify and get consent from the account holder.
4409 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: We heard from different WSP’s that they all have their own unique and predetermined levels at which they notify users that they’re approaching their maximum data allotment. Some are 100 percent, some are 95, some are 90. If we’re making changes to the Code, should we be looking to set a standard notification limit across the country and across all service providers for consistency purposes?
4410 MS. AUER: I wouldn’t suggest making that change simply for consistency purposes. I’d suggest making the change because that’s likely what Canadians want; that Canadians want to have some warning and some understanding of what’s happening.
4411 I think that the majority of Canadians are interested in having some certainty and, as you’ve pointed out, some control over their bills rather than having at all times to be looking at their account information through the online system. Sometimes it’s simply not easy to go every day and check to see what you’ve been doing and where you’re at.
4412 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: I used the analogy with another intervenor earlier in the week about how Canadians may plan their budget for food over the course of the month, and if they -- they make the decision to eat steak one week they might be eating cereal the next week but they make those decisions constantly.
4413 I can see a scenario whereby Canadians want to manage their data allotment similarly over the course of the month or, you know, reduce their usage for a week because they know they’ve got a long road trip with their kids coming up the next week.
4414 Given that, do you think it would make sense for service providers to issue periodic updates, perhaps via text message, as to where the individuals are with respect to their data usage as they go throughout the month, perhaps an alert if there’s four weeks in a month, 25, 50, 75 and 100 percent?
4415 MS. AUER: I must say that I would very much favour that idea. I think it’s a nice happy medium. I think we have the technology. I think it would be a low cost solution for companies to inform their users of what’s happening.
4416 And I think we had one other point that Cynthia just mentioned.
4417 MS. KHOO: Oh, it was just simply that perhaps more savvy users, for instance, would not want notifications that often. So it would also be good if it came with an option to opt out of these notifications or to maybe receive them less frequently.
4418 MS. AUER: Some people may not want to hear all the time what’s happening, and so they -- as Cynthia just mentioned, they should have the option to opt out of those notices. Perhaps they should also be given the option at some point to opt back in. In other words, we’re not working with card punches and paper anymore, it’s all electronic, this is really a matter of programming.
4419 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: If -- and another intervenor echoed those comments and that, you know, you can overwhelm people with too much information and then it becomes noise.
4420 If someone did opt out, as you suggest, do you see them opting out of any recourse that they may want to have if they have missed those 25, 75, 90 percent notifications because they opt out and all of the sudden on the 7th day of the month they’ve exhausted their data allotment and now have to purchase top-ups?
4421 MS. AUER: I think if users are sufficiently warned and informed and they make the decision they’re entitled to opt out and they’re entitled to bear the consequences.
4422 That said, and there’s always a qualification because you have the odd cases and you have, you know, as by now well cited CBC story about the unfortunate gentleman whose phone was stolen. So perhaps there could be a provision that okay, so you’ve opted out of your notifications and your usage is now double the normal usage -- well double is 100 percent -- once it reaches, let’s say, 10,000 percent of your normal usage perhaps you’d like to be notified again, and at that point if you’ve opted out would the company actually bear responsibility perhaps to say “Listen, we know you opted out, but, you know, by the way, you are now at 10,000 percent, you may not be aware of that.” There has to be a level of reasonableness.
4423 And I’m thinking that because I can recall vividly about two years ago I was at a retail kiosk and I was buying something with my debit card and it was declined and they said “Call your bank immediately”. So I’m frightened, I call my bank immediately, and they said “Could we ask where you are right now” I said “I’m in Ottawa” and they said “Well your card is in Quebec City and we’ve cancelled it on your behalf.” And I was very happy because I was not in Quebec City and I didn’t know anybody there anyway.
4424 And the point is that I think it’s up to -- yes, we all bear a responsibility as consumers to be aware of what we’re doing. Oddly, cellphones are just not that easy. They are complicated. They’re complex. And I think, to the greatest extent possible, we should try to ensure that consumers are protected, sometimes even from their own mistakes. That’s not a straightforward yay and nay, black and white answer, and I’m sorry for it. It’s a bit wishy washy. Because I think we’d be concerned if people are being penalized with extremely high bills.
4425 MS. KHOO: I think it’s also worth noting, though, that just on a practical level we’re talking about these notifications at 25, 50, 70 percent of the data that’s already included in their base plan. And so even if they opt out of those and they go over they’re still going to be caught by the $50 data cap overage, and I don’t think we’d say that they could opt of that. So there is still that safety net for people who opt out of all the notifications on their base plan.
4426 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: With respect to the $50, what are your thoughts on that amount? Should it be increased? Should it be lowered? Should it be assuming WSPs can adapt their processes and tools to be able to accommodate it? Should that be something the consumer sets? You may be comfortable with $50, I may be comfortable with 20.
4427 MS. AUER: I think the Commission had good reason in 2013 to come up with the $50 limit. I don’t see any particular evidence at this point that suggests people would really like to have it raised. It might be possible for people -- you know, some people may prefer to have a lower limit.
4428 I think that would be terrific if people had the option to reduce the limit and say I would prefer to be notified at 25 or have the service cut out at $25 because goodness knows what my son Jeff or my daughter Marie is doing with that phone and I'd like her to stop.
4429 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: You also cited the example that was in the media and we've referenced it here as well with respect to the TELUS customer whose device was stolen in the U.S.
4430 Given that, what are your thoughts on users, be it a child on a shared plan or the actual account holder, what your thoughts be on having to provide a passcode to verify that you are who you say you are when you're consenting to purchase additional data?
4431 MS. AUER: You know, if I didn't have already 50,000 passcodes at home, I would say great idea. I think it's just starting to get a bit complicated. Normally, I certainly find most companies if you call them and you claim to be the account holder, they'll start to ask you a certain number of questions and that's one of the reasons I've never told my children my date of birth.
4432 So, you know, there are mechanism in place. If companies want to assure customers of greater security, I think they should and they should invite customers to -- give them the option then if they're that concerned about their security.
4433 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: A lot of the complaints that the CCTS has received have been not related to data roaming charges but related to voice roaming charges.
4434 And given those complaints are relatively significant in number, what are your thoughts on what, if anything, we should do to clarify voice roaming charges in the future Wireless Code going forward?
4435 MS. AUER: We would support you in that.
4436 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Do you have any specific points of clarity or recommendations in mind?
4437 MS. AUER: I think another $50 limit, something reasonable, or alternatively, you know, the provider could offer the option of setting specified limits but I don’t think it should be allowed to exceed $50.
4438 MS. KHOO: It might be worth investigating at least another recommendation just in terms of data collection of why there are so many, why is voice roaming so significant. Is it because people are confusing it with their data roaming plans or is it for some other reason? And if we know the root cause of why it's such a significant problem, then that might take us some ways towards finding a solution to address it.
4439 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay, thank you.
4440 In your comments a few moments ago in your oral remarks, you made note of customers potentially inadvertently agreeing to electronic rather than paper copies.
4441 What are your thoughts on that? Currently, providers must provide a paper copy but we're moving to a paperless world and I know that sounds ironic considering I have a briefing book and I'm surrounded by papers right now, but we are moving to a paperless world.
4442 Should more flexibility be allowed to the providers and the individuals to choose which version they want?
4443 MS. AUER: Yes.
4444 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Do you have any thought on what should be the default?
4445 MS. AUER: I have to say that I'm probably impaired here by my age. My preference would be to have something in the mail because I would ironically trust the mail. I think different generations will have different preferences. So I'm not sure if that's something that should be prescribed as the default.
4446 However, one option, one requirement might be that if you are going to receive something electronically, then there has to be some mechanism to ensure that your receipt of that information is documented because it would be reasonable for the wireless service provider to be able to ascertain in the end did that customer actually receive that document.
4447 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. So presumably leave it up to the consumer which version they want and perhaps echo what we did with the TVSP Code?
4448 MS. AUER: Yes.
4449 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay.
4450 With respect to the trial period, what are your thoughts on the usage limits that have been set by some of the service providers? They seem to be all over the map with respect to what people can do during the either 15 or 30-day trial period.
4451 Are there specific standards that you think we should put in place with respect to how much voice, text, and data can be used during that period?
4452 MS. AUER: I believe the Coalition provided some guidance in that area. I think what struck me most when I was reading through some of the other submissions was examples where, you know, if downloaded updates of software would suddenly consume the entire amount of data within the first day and without the customer's affirmation of that use. So our concern would be that it ought to be a reasonable amount -- and this is specified of course in the 2013 decision or Code itself -- ought to be a reasonable amount to allow a reasonable use of the device as intended.
4453 So surely, if the first hour of the device consumes all of the data simply to update the software on the device, that's unreasonable in that it would deny the user access to the device's functionality over the remaining period of the trial period.
4454 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: So not with counting any data that may be consumed in the device setup, if you had to put a percentage on it perhaps of whatever the monthly plan allotment is that the customer is trying to buy or is planning on buying, assuming they like the service after the trial period, what percentage would you put on that?
4455 MS. KHOO: Some intervenors early in these proceedings suggested half of what the monthly plan was and that seems to make the most sense especially given that it would then track the time period that was given for the trial as well.
4456 MS. AUER: We would like to emphasize though that I think some special consideration or perhaps even just basic research ought to be done with respect to accessibility issues to ensure that accessibility -- users who require accessibility -- I hate to use the word treatment -- or they require special care in their contracts, again, receive that same level of care in terms of a trial period.
4457 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay, thank you.
4458 With respect to gifts and promotions, you mentioned it on page 5 of your oral comments today, wireless users who subsequently decide to cancel their contract should not be required to return the incentive or other promotions offered to them by the wireless service provider. And I have a little note here and it says, "Why not?" So I'll ask that question.
4459 Why shouldn't they be required to return that gift, the teddy bear that we keep talking about?
4460 MS. AUER: Well, I guess it started my -- our view on that started out from the notion of what is a gift. A gift is property that's transferred and can't be taken back. All right, so let's not call it a gift. Let's call it a marketing item.
4461 I fail to see why consumers should be charged for the marketing item that they did not specifically request. And even if they did, they were given a choice. You could have this teddy bear or this bunny rabbit or this chocolate giraffe even if they were able to choose that. In my view, this is simply a way to increase barriers to customer's flexibility.
4462 If they find that the device doesn’t work and they've eaten the chocolate giraffe, they shouldn't be constrained from returning their contract and terminating it. In other words, let's be reasonable and let's not -- let's ensure that marketing is a marketing expense that companies willingly undertake and the expenses for which, as I understand it, are recovered by them through the Income Tax Act.
4463 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: They may not have requested the gift, let's call it a promotion, but they may have accepted it and it may have been a factor in their decision to enter into that contract with a service provider.
4464 I remember it's been a few years now but in my hometown seeing billboards where if you took the full suite of packages from a given service provider, they would give you a Smart TV. All things being equal on price, that could be the decision making factor for many individuals.
4465 So if that's what made them decide to choose this provider, why shouldn't they be required to return that device if the service doesn't meet their -- doesn't suit their needs or wants?
4466 MS. AUER: Well, again, yes, they're being offered it but are they being offered it at a price. Are they being told if you -- we are transferring this property to you. We would very much like you to take our service. But if you don't like our service, bring back the thing that we've given you.
4467 I think most customers, if they were confronted with that kind of exchange, might view it quite differently from a marketing promotion or incentive.
4468 I think Cynthia had something to add.
4469 MS. KHOO: So it goes to the idea that because it seems more like marketing and promotion it should be considered part of their cost of doing business or of attracting customers. However, there's also a problem with putting so much focus on that gift promotion aspect and on allowing them to...
4470 So one of the intervenors earlier, one of the WSPs, said well this limit -- this inability to insure the value of these gifts that we give means we can't give customers as good gifts to enter into the contract with us.
4471 But why are -- do we want to shore up their ability to do that? In a way, it's almost like outsourcing competition from their actual core services to the gifts that they're giving to induce people to enter into then not as good services that maybe would be better if they attributed the value of the gifts to the actual services of data, or pricing. And so there's also that aspect of it, is where we -- focusing on what -- on the value that WSPs are giving to consumers.
4472 MS. AUER: I think if companies want to get into the business of having really cool things to give to their customers, that's wonderful, that's innovative, perhaps. But my understanding was that wireless service providers are in the business of providing wireless service and that they compete with each other on their network, on the reliability of the network, on prices that they charge, on different other aspects of their service. So a promotion -- a promotional item seems to be somewhat extraneous to the whole -- their whole undertaking.
4473 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And you know, some would suggest that wireless providers should just be competing on price and service, and if they can afford to give away a promotional item maybe they should be lowering their -- the rates they charge by the value of that promotional item.
4474 But presuming that promotional items do still have some role to play moving forward, do you think it would be sensible for providers not to provide them to the customer until after the trial period has ended? You can't give back what you never received.
4475 MS. AUER: I think the Forum does not believe that marketing promotions should be a return item. So whether it's within the trial period or outside the trial period -- I understand the arguments, I just don't think that we support the idea that customers should now be charged for promotional items in or outside the trial period.
4476 This is a cost that companies choose to bear. This is where they want to compete. They want to compete on the chocolate giraffe or the bunny or the teddy or whatever they want to do; that's their choice. Consumers are going to them, not to get the chocolate giraffe or the bunny; they're going to them to buy the wireless service, and possibly a phone.
4477 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: On page 6 of your comments today, you said:
4478 "Unbundling wireless services and device sales could reduce switching costs and strengthen [the] market..."
4479 What are your thoughts on whether devices and plans should be sold separately?
4480 MS. AUER: In the 2012 proceeding, the Commission heard evidence to that effect from different parties. In this proceeding, the Forum believes that, yes, companies should be required to sell these devices and the services separately so that we are not ending up with the misleading terminology of financed devices, which implies somehow that you are -- I don't even know what that implies anymore, or subsidized devices.
4481 That's my pet favourite that wireless devices are being subsidized. Who is subsidizing it when the customer is entirely paying for the cost of the device? It's fully amortized over the cost of the contract.
4482 So in terms of unbundling, I think that it would be a better way to go, yes, and that the Forum agrees with that idea.
4483 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Rogers, I believe it was yesterday, talked about the challenges that they would face as an organization if device contracts and service contracts were unbundled, changes to their bill system, training, websites, customer portals, they had an extensive list.
4484 Could customers receive the same benefit if bills were itemized and broken out more clearly as opposed to having two separate contracts if the billing was changed in some way?
4485 MS. AUER: I think clarity often offers solutions, and certainly we want to inform consumers. If it's a choice between simply having these elements of the contract separated and spelled out in detail and then also -- and the other choice being the separation of device and service, the Forum's preference is the separation of device and service. The fall back then would be clarity in the contract.
4486 So I'm not sure if that responds to your question in the way that you would like.
4487 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: It at least suggests a Plan A and a Plan B.
4488 Changing topics to unlocking of devices, and you mentioned today at paragraph 36, the Code should address unlocking fees. Can you unpack what you mean by address? Reduce them, eliminate them, I assume you don't mean increase them?
4489 MS. AUER: I don't think it would be a good idea to increase them. I think that would create -- that would add even a larger barrier than they are now. Ideally, they would be eliminated.
4490 We recognize that if the Code eliminates fees, prices will not necessarily go down because there is no mechanism to ensure that prices would go down by that amount. On the other hand, when the customer wants to walk across the street with the device that he's already or she's already paid for for 24 months, it would be nice if she could just go and have that device unlocked without charge so she can go to the next provider.
4491 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Should unlocking fees only be set at zero if a customer has completed their 24 month term? I'm thinking of a situation where someone may decide to cancel after one year but may want to use their device when they move to their next service provider.
4492 MS. AUER: Well, I suppose, and Cynthia has pointed this out quite correctly, even if they leave after the one month they're still bound, as I recall, to pay for the device. They at that point will be owning the device, so why would they be paying anything to unlock a device that they already own. It's something like making all the payments on your car but now you have to pay for the key to get into it and drive away -- in haste.
4493 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Another proposal, another suggestion that we've discussed over the course of the week is taking a similar approach to unlocking fees that we did with the early cancellation fee. Whereby what the early cancellation fee is set at ticks down month over month until it reaches zero and that's clearly spelled out and seems to be understood by consumers.
4494 Would that type of approach to unlocking fees make sense in your mind?
4495 MS. AUER: I think it starts to complicate things again. You may not -- the CCTS may not be receiving a great many complaints about the ticking down process.
4496 I think there's a fundamental difference in ticking down for an entire term of a contract. I guess our position is this: Once the phone is paid for, whether it's because of an end of -- early -- end of early contract cancellation or through the natural expiration of the contract, unlocking the device should be free.
4497 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay.
4498 MS. KHOO: There is also a difference between the unlocking fee and the early cancellation fee, because in terms of the early cancellation fee, that would -- that's tied to the value of the device, right, and -- which is a very expensive device, and there is a tangible value there that it makes sense to incorporate.
4499 But in terms of the unlocking fee, I think it's been noted a few times, that it's not a great endeavour to unlock a phone. It takes a few minutes of staff time or it takes passing over a code. And so the fee to begin with doesn't seem like it should be such a great amount that it makes sense to amortize it over a long period of time.
4500 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: So let's assume a situation whereby the Commission decides not to make any changes to unlocking fees in the updated Code. We’ve asked WSPs to provide some information with respect to how much they charge for unlocking fees, how frequently they receive those requests, what revenues are derived from it. If we decide not to make any changes to that particular component, do you see the need or a benefit in wireless service providers continuing to provide that information to the Commission on perhaps an annual basis or semi-annual basis?
4501 MS. AUER: Yes.
4502 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And should that information be made public?
4503 MS. AUER: Yes.
4504 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Thank you.
4505 With respect to clarity of contracts, you suggested in one of your recommendations that we not allow hyperlinks and documents that direct clients to websites containing important information. Why are you of that viewpoint?
4507 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: What about use of hyperlinks in those documents for information that by its very nature has to and should change? I’m thinking about as providers erect new towers it changes their coverage map, as they -- perhaps as they structure new international roaming arrangements, international roaming rates may change, items like that, are there certain items that you think by their very nature could be effectively accessed through a hyperlink?
4508 MS. AUER: Well, you’ve raised an excellent example and I think those bear consideration. Items that consumers are aware through their contract are likely to change over the course of the contract could, of course, be referenced by hyperlink because then it wouldn’t make sense to include a fixed statement of those items that everyone knows will change over time.
4509 I think Cynthia had something.
4510 MS. KHOO: In that case, perhaps the best solution or compromise would be to still include the static information at that time but also include the statement that that particular section is subject to change and the link, just because it’s important that consumers know what they’re signing on to at that time.
4511 So if you look at the CCTS data, non-disclosure and misleading terms were the number one complaint they got. So this is actually a very big concern for consumers. And I think there is something to be said for knowing to what you sign on at the time, especially in the case of dispute.
4512 If say you only provided a link and the customer says, “Well, this is what I thought I was agreeing to” but by that point it’s a year later and the link has changed, even just from a kind of a psychological level just put yourself in that customer’s shoes. They have nothing to refer to. They have no evidence for what they thought their plan was at the time they signed on to it.
4513 So I think having that static information but then also the ability to change it by just noting it on the contract and directing them to that link and making that subjectivity to change very clear would be a way to kind of take care of all the problems.
4514 MS. AUER: And I should add that I think Cynthia and I are coming at this not necessarily just from the approach of looking at the Wireless Code and what works best for users and wireless providers, but really from the perspective of contract formation. And when you’re forming a contract, both parties have to understand what they’re agreeing to. They have to be ad idem. They have to be informed. And so having parts of the contract that unexpectedly change after the fact is disconcerting to that concept of ad idem, you know, informed consent.
4515 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Do you have any concern that by removing the use of hyperlinks that the information package that -- or the contract that providers give to customers may end up just being overwhelming? I’m quite fortunate I’m married to a lawyer, so when I receive a contract I instantly hand it over. Not everyone has that option and if wireless contracts grow from 10 pages to 15 pages to 30 pages, not only adding cost, it might just be too overwhelming for some consumers.
4516 MS. AUER: This is one of the side effects of moving to a system where we are purely in the realm of contracts determining service levels. The alternative, which I think has not ever been adopted on the wireless side, is for the CRTC to introduce a complete regulatory regime so that customers don’t have to be informed to that extent about all of the various options. And it’s regrettable that, yeah, the length of the contract will increase. On the other hand -- and I was just about to say at least we won’t be killing all those trees, but I know a lot of people actually work in the paper industry and they needs those trees and they need the paper and they need the work, so I can’t go that way either.
4517 It’s unfortunate but I think the fact that we’re already talking about the disadvantages of having a very long contract emphasizes how complex this particular area is for consumers. It’s not simple. It’s not easy. And that’s why the Critical Information Summary should be a comparative marketing tool.
4518 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: New Brunswick’s pulp and paper industry thanks you for your noting that there is perhaps, if not an environmental, an economic benefit to printing.
4519 You’ve submitted 22 recommendations. If you had to choose just one that you wanted to make sure that we put into the modified Code, what would you recommend that be?
4520 MS. AUER: Well, I’d rather submit three but I’ll go with the one. I’ll have to scroll through and see which is the very best and which would fundamentally change everyone’s life if we just adopted one recommendation.
4521 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Well, we’re at the end of the day so you can give us your top three.
4522 MS. AUER: Oh, okay. Thank you very much.
4523 I think the first recommendation is going to be the counterintuitive one. We would like the CRTC to continue to do research in this area to make the research more available and transparent. We believe that Canadian university researchers can help you enormously and understand -- in understanding the complexity of the different challenges that you face on a daily basis.
4524 Second, we also believe strongly that there should be very clear objectives and purposes set out in the Code itself so that in three years when we hope the Code will be reviewed again along with CCTS, we’re all on the same page as to what the Code is supposed to be achieving in the next three years.
4525 I think it would be very helpful, for example, if the Commission might consider adopting the approach it took in the late 1980s when it was renewing the CBC network licenses. At that time it specified a series of short-term and long-term concrete objectives for the corporation to achieve throughout the period of its license renewal. It might be helpful in the determination for this proceeding for the Commission to indicate where it expects the industry to go. Then it removes a bit of the guesswork. We all are working from the same level of certainty.
4526 And as for my third one -- and I guess for the third one we would go for the account holder user distinction because that would provide the actual account holder, the person who pays the bills, with more certainty and control.
4527 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Thank you for that.
4528 When do you think the new Code should come into effect? What’s a reasonable timeframe for industry and consumers to adapt?
4529 MS. AUER: Well, I guess with the experience that industry has had working with the Code and the fact that they’re all aware that changes might be on the horizon, perhaps six months might be a reasonable timeframe.
4530 As for how it would benefit consumers, I don’t know if I would say, yes, the day you publish your determination is the day it applies. I think that might be viewed as a little bit unreasonable towards wireless service providers. Again, perhaps six months. It gives people time to adapt.
4531 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. And just one final question before I hand you over to my colleagues. You’ve mentioned a couple of times that you’re suggesting another review of the Code in three years’ time. We set the last review at three years because the Code was new. Now it’s more mature. Why are you suggesting another three years versus four or five?
4532 MS. AUER: I think the Code in this initial development period can always stand to be reviewed to ensure that it’s truly serving the objectives for which it was established. Waiting five years, in my view, is going to be a little bit too long, because by the time you actually get to the review in five years you’re going to have to take, you know, a period of time to have the consultation, going to have to give some period of time for people to actually implement whatever changes you might propose in five years, so we’re actually then -- we might well be into a seven year cycle.
4533 So from our perspective it would be better in this period of time, at this stage, even when the Code is at its first, if you will, birthday review, to review it a little bit more quickly.
4534 And in any event, as we’ve said, we’ve -– we’re also suggesting that the Commission review CCTS and the Code simultaneously, because then you have the agent responsible for implementing the Code in the same room as the Code itself, so to speak, and you can consider how the two are interacting and why the changes need to be both – made on both sides.
4535 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And, my apologies, I do have one final one that’s on the topic of awareness.
4536 We’ve heard different proposals, some have advocated larger scale media and marketing campaigns to raise awareness of the Code. We heard from Freedom Mobile earlier today that they already include some language on each of their bills that go to their customers. Outlining I think contact the CCTS that language could perhaps be changed to include a link to the Code itself.
4537 What do you feel – if you feel – I know that you feel that awareness is too low, what specific steps do you think would raise awareness to an adequate level.
4538 MS. AUER: I think the Forum leans to the side of situational awareness. When you’ve got a problem is when you actually need the solution.
4539 I’m aware that other parties are suggesting the ongoing marketing. We don’t oppose that. We certainly don’t oppose that, but we do at a minimum think that the best option is so that -- is that when people receive their bill, they are able at a glance to say ‘ah, this is -- I don’t understand my bill, this is how I actually deal with it’, and sets out the various steps.
4540 So we’re not opposed to a marketing campaign. It might well help people. We’re simply not advocating that strongly for it.
4541 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Thank you, those are my questions.
4542 THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Those are all the Panel’s questions for you today. Thank you very much. And legal has no questions either, so thank you.
4543 So we’re adjourned until 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.
--- Upon adjourning at 4:59 p.m.
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