Utility Reconnection Services: A New Threat to Vulnerable Consumers?


Susan Lott


Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)




This report examines the current status of utility deregulation or restructuring in the energy and telecommunications sectors in Canada and the U.S. and its impact upon low-income consumers. It focuses on three major utility sectors that have the greatest impact on residential, low-income consumers: electricity, natural gas and telephone services. Specifically, the report examines to what extent reconnection services, or services targeted specifically to consumers who have lost service or have been unable to maintain utility service as a result of deregulation or restructuring, have emerged in Canada and the U.S. A significant part of the report examines utility restructuring and its effects in some specific jurisdictions in the U.S. The report examines some of the regulatory responses to telephone reconnection services and the impact of market segmentation in the energy sector creating the phenomenon of Providers of Last Resort Services. With this background, the report offers some initial assessment of the overall impact of utility restructuring on vulnerable consumers in Canada and the U.S. The report assesses how the U.S. experience of deregulation may be relevant for Canada. Finally, the report focuses on Canada’s existing legal/legislative framework to protect vulnerable consumers. It looks briefly at the federal regulatory role in telecommunications and in energy and the provincial role, using Ontario as an example. It also looks at consumer protection legislation in Ontario and its applicability, as well as the status of the common law notion of "duty to serve" under deregulation. The report makes some specific recommendations concerning measures to assess the status of restructuring and to address effects of restructuring on vulnerable consumers. It makes further recommendations concerning utility reconnection services in the telephone and energy sectors.

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OCA Funded Research
This research received funding support through the Office of Consumer Affairs' Contributions Program.

Contact information

Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
285 McLeod Street, Suite 200
Ottawa, ON   K2P 1A1
(613) 562-4002
(613) 562-0007

Source: Consumer Policy Research Database

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