Archived—Project Summaries 2007-2008 - Union des consommateurs (UC)

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1. Obstacles to Switching Telecommunications Service Providers

$53,175

Although the growing number of telecommunications service providers should foster greater competition for clients, it appears that they have developed numerous practices that can limit their clients' capacity to switch to another provider (e.g., major penalties in the event of cancellation before term, service connection fees). It is therefore worth taking a look at the barriers to switching telecommunications service providers and to determine in what capacity these barriers are likely to limit consumers' capacity to benefit from the advantages of healthy competition.

In order to define the issue, the UC proposes the following methodology:

  • Conduct a literature review on the benefits of competition in telecommunications.
  • Identify the main telecommunications service providers in Canada (from the companies' annual reports, CRTC monitoring reports, etc).
  • Identify provider practices that are likely to constitute barriers to switching telecommunications service providers: literature review; analysis of provider practices and contracts; consultation of experts in the provision of telecommunications services; work in government organizations and telecommunications companies; consultation of organizations with which consumer complaints relating to telecommunications services are filed (consumer protection associations, consumer rights agencies, CRTC).
  • Conduct a survey to determine whether the barriers identified truly limit consumers' capacity to benefit from the advantages of competition.
  • Review federal legislation and provincial legislation in effect in Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan likely to provide a framework for these practices.
  • Assess the legality of the identified practices.
  • Proceed with a critical analysis of the capacity of acts and regulations to remove these barriers or minimize their effects.
  • Identify the best measures taken by other jurisdictions (United States and France) to limit the effect of barriers to switching providers (provider practices, voluntary standards, regulations).
  • Conduct a literature review and survey to identify the barriers that are likely to stem from consumers' perception of the capacity of a given technology to provide reliable, secure service and identify the basis of these perceptions.
  • Based on a literature review, evaluate the validity of consumer perceptions.
  • Survey 1,000 consumers to gather the information listed in points 4) and 9): prepare the survey; invite members on the Union des consommateurs subscriber list; identify partners likely to distribute the survey and contacts; conduct the survey; analyse survey findings.

Conclusions and recommendations

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2. Obstacles to Consumer Awareness and Understanding of Consumer Contracts

$36,470

It appears that a significant number of consumers are subject to contract terms and conditions that limit their rights without their knowledge. These contract terms and conditions can make it difficult for consumers to bring the issue before the courts in order to have them found invalid. Contractual clauses are also likely to vary depending on the environment in which the contract was made (i.e., on-line, by telephone or in stores). UC feels it is worth examining the obstacles that may inhibit consumers from becoming aware of and understanding consumer contracts. UC will take into account the medium through which the contract was reached, and propose solutions that could help consumers overcome these obstacles.

In order to define the issue, the UC proposes the following methodology:

Literature review and the collection of data relevant to our study, including: a review of the types of contracts identified as the most problematic; a review of the types of clauses that are most often the subject of complaints; a review of literature on consumers' lack of awareness of contracts; a review of tools and information at the disposal of consumers to help them learn about and understand contracts; the identification of three goods or services that consumers commonly purchase on-line, by telephone and in stores.

Review of contracts and obstacles

  • For each of the identified goods or services, obtain a model of contracts entered into on-line, by telephone or in stores, in three Canadian provinces (Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick);
  • Review the content of each of the consumer contracts identified;
  • In the contracts selected, identify the clauses that limit consumer rights, do little for their interests, impose disproportionate obligations on consumers, etc;
  • Analyse the impact of these clauses and the importance for consumers to be aware of them before entering into contracts;
  • Identify the obstacles that inhibit consumers from becoming aware of and understanding the identified consumer contracts.

Review of legislation

  • Review legislative measures intended to promote consumer awareness and understanding of consumer contracts in three Canadian provinces (Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick) and France;
  • Review the legality of practices that hinder consumer awareness and understanding of consumer contracts;
  • Conduct a critical analysis of the capacity of legislation to ensure adequate consumer awareness and understanding of consumer contracts;
  • Conduct a comparative analysis of legislative measures adopted in France to favour consumer awareness and understanding of consumer contracts.

Conclusions and recommendations

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3. Photovoltaics for Small Consumers

$35,665

The increasing demand for energy in Canada and concerns related to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) have generated a growing interest in distributed power generation (DPG) using renewable sources among governments, energy providers and consumers. Of the technologies that could reach a large number of small consumers (i.e., residential consumers), solar energy technologies have a very high deployment potential. The deployment of photovoltaics to residential consumers, however, raises a number of questions for consumer rights organizations, especially with regard to the dissemination of knowledge, cost-effectiveness (through the sale of surplus electricity that the photovoltaics equipment is likely to produce and distribute via the network to electricity distributors) and energy cost savings, owner liability, and equipment certification and safety. The industry is focusing on the technical and technological aspects of solar DPG; however, an important question is what are the barriers facing small consumers who are interested in and who could benefit from photovoltaic solar technology?

In order to define the issue, the UC proposes the following methodology:

Literature review and documentary research on photovoltaic solar technologies:

  • Identification of photovoltaic technologies with applications for small consumers;
  • Overview of the pros and cons of the selected technologies and applications for consumers;
  • Summary and examples.

Review of incentive programs or existing incentives (Japan, United States, Western Europe and Canada):

  • Identification and summary description of programs;
  • Analysis of the various programs' objectives;
  • Identification of the clientele targeted by the programs;
  • Analysis of program results (consultation of reports and/or contacts with distributors or municipal, regional or regulatory authorities);
  • Summary of best practices.

Review and analysis of aspects that are of particular interest to consumers:

  • Overview of considerations related to purchase, installation and maintenance;
  • Overview of technical and commercial considerations;
  • Review of prerequisites for the cost-effectiveness of the selected technologies and applications;
  • Identification of secondary considerations (financing, insurance, dissemination of knowledge, savings, owner responsibilities, certification of equipment, inspection, warranties, safety, etc).
  • Summary of barriers and issues identified in a Canadian context.

Conclusions and recommendations