Schmidt: Government-made consumer awareness tool dropped thanks to Big Telecom lobbying

Image by Ron Bennets on Flickr

We've recently made significant headway in our Stop Online Spying campaign—Bill C-30 is finally getting the media coverage it deserves and Canadians are engaging both online and off in this fight for online privacy. Meanwhile, (as is well known) Canadians continue to be gouged by their cellphone providers. Are you curious as to the extent of this unjust gouging?

As we have seen time and again, Telus, Rogers, and Bell do not want consumers to have choices or options. They want your money and they don't want to have to fight for it. This lobbying success (for the Big Three) exemplifies their ability to manipulate our government. But Canadians are pushing back.

Article by Sarah Schmidt for Postmedia News:

OTTAWA - Industry Canada privately defended its cellphone plan calculator as an ``important consumer-education tool'' even as the minister's office publicly claimed the initiative was killed because it didn't work, internal records show.

After the government spent $1.4 million over three years to develop an online calculator allowing consumers to compare cellphone plans tailored to their usage patterns, then-industry minister Tony Clement killed the initiative just before its launch in 2009. At the time, his spokesman said it would have been ``irresponsible'' to launch it with ``inaccurate'' information.

Internal departmental records, only now released to Postmedia News under access to information after a long delay, show the department's Office of Consumer Affairs held a different view and defended the calculator against an aggressive lobby campaign by industry giants.

Clement sided with the companies after his office was lobbied directly by Rogers Communications, Telus Communications and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), the records show.

The revelations come just as Industry Minister Christian Paradis, Clement's successor, is set to announce new rules for its latest auction of wireless spectrum.

Consumer groups, such as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, are worried the Conservative government won't impose set-asides for new entrants to improve competition in the wireless market dominated by a few big telecoms, and instead opt for capping companies' total spectrum.

In a 10-page rebuttal drafted by Industry Canada in response to the industry association's criticisms of the online calculator, written just days before Clement pulled the plug on the project, the department said consumers were looking for a cellphone plan calculator from a trusted and impartial source.

``The Office of Consumer Affairs believes that the market distortion lies in the complexity of the marketplace which inhibits consumers' ability to make educated and informed choices. The Calculator mitigates this by providing consumers with a means to effectively and rationally analyze the marketplace and assess features and options based on their assessment of their own usage patterns. In the absence of such a tool, consumers would have great difficulty in performing this type of complex mathematical analysis,'' according to the rebuttal drafted May 13, 2009.

Two weeks later, Clement informed the department he had ``decided not to proceed with the product,'' the records show. Read more »



Topics: Cell Phones

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