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Scott Hutton to the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications

Press Release

From: Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

May 28, 2024

Good morning and thank you for inviting us to appear before your committee.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to thank the Algonquin Anishinaabeg People for having me here as a guest on their unceded, unsurrendered territory. I would also like to thank them for being stewards of the land and waters in this area since time immemorial.

I am joined today by my colleague, Nanao Kachi, Director of Social and Consumer Policy.

It’s great to see all of you again.

As you know, the CRTC is an independent, administrative tribunal that regulates the Canadian communications sector in the public interest. We hold public hearings on telecommunications and broadcasting matters, and make decisions based on the public record of those hearings.

During our recent appearance before your committee, we explained that our work in the telecommunications industry focuses mainly on Internet and cellphone services. We promote choice and affordability for Canadians, encourage investment in reliable and high-quality networks, and work to improve access to telecommunications services in Indigenous, rural, and remote communities.

These goals were brought into greater focus in February 2023 when the government issued a policy direction to the CRTC to renew its approach to telecommunications. It directed us, among other things, to act quickly to provide clarity to the market, and to consider how our decisions would promote competition, affordability, consumer interests, and innovation.

We take consumer interests very seriously at the CRTC. Canadians deserve clear and concise information when choosing telecommunications service plans, and we have taken action to make sure they have it. We also know that when Canadians have more choices and are empowered to make them, that naturally increases competition—and in turn affordability.

Let me share with you the actions we have taken to make it easier for consumers to switch cellphone and Internet providers.

As we mentioned in our last appearance, we created the Wireless Code in 2013 and the Internet Code in 2019. Both ensure that customers receive a copy of their contract from their provider explaining the services included and any potential overage charges in clear terms.  These should also be made available in accessible formats, free of charge, for persons with disabilities. Providers cannot lock in customers for more than 24 months and must send a notification before the end of the contract. They must also clearly indicate in their contracts that customers can switch plans or providers without penalty.

Under the Wireless Code, devices provided must be unlocked at the customer’s request at no charge. This makes it easier to switch since the same cellphone will work on any new provider’s network. We have also taken action to safeguard against any charges incurred when a cellphone is lost or stolen, and service providers can’t charge a customer for service while their device is being repaired.

Furthermore, when Canadians choose to switch to a different provider, we have put in place rules so that their new provider can transfer all of their existing services—including phone numbers—from their last provider. Canadians don’t have to notify or talk to their old provider if they do not want to.

We would also like to point out that these codes are not static. We continue to explore ways that we can improve the codes to protect customers from unreasonable charges and improve their ability to choose plans that best fits their needs. The measures we mentioned regarding unlocking cellphones were part of a substantial update to the Wireless Code in 2017.

The actions we take are based on what Canadians tell us they need through our public consultations. We also listen to Canadians through public opinion research so we can better understand the issues that matter to them. For example, we know from research conducted last year that many Canadians find the current marketing practices of telecommunications companies confusing and containing unclear information, that perceived cost remains an obstacle to switching plans, and that some providers still have accessibility problems on their websites, just to name a few. The CRTC has also put in place a Secret Shopper Program to understand the shoppers’ experience when they deal with providers.

So, we are constantly looking at how we can help improve the consumer experience and provide Canadians with more information and choice. Any further action that the CRTC takes will build on the foundation of protections that I have outlined today and with the interests of Canadians top of mind.

We are working to ensure that Canadians can benefit from lower prices and more choice, while promoting investment in telecommunications networks. We look forward to continuing this important work.

Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you today, and we look forward to your questions.

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