2011–12 Project Summaries: Public Interest Advocacy Centre

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Ottawa, ON  K1N 7B7
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1. Consumers and Wireless Data Roaming Fees

Canadian consumers travelling internationally are returning home with stories about bill shock from data roaming costs. This issue is especially pertinent in the age of smartphones where data can be used intermittently while the phone is on, even if the consumer does not actively open emails or open webpages on their phone.

This project will study wireless services and billing practices related to international data roaming charges. The project will collect information about how Canadian wireless service providers currently levy data roaming charges. Data will be collected about the price and usage caps of add-on packages that wireless service providers offer their customers. A consumer survey will be conducted to examine the consumer experience with data roaming fees and consumer attitudes to using their wireless phone to access data while abroad.

Expected outcome

An assessment of whether consumers feel that they need consumer protection from bill shock for data roaming fees.

2. Pursestrings Attached: Towards a Financial Planning Regulatory Framework

This study will examine how to move towards a national, comprehensive regulatory framework for the regulation of financial planning in Canada. Previous research has demonstrated that consumers and even financial service providers are far from clear on what financial planning is, who may do it and what the rules are, and what happens when financial planning is done improperly or is used as a cover for fraud.

This research will examine in detail the necessary steps towards creating a certain regulatory framework that is consistent across Canada, so that all Canadians can benefit from financial planning, with robust consumer protection. Live issues in designing such regulation are the standard of care of planners, what constitutes financial planning and whether similar rules should be applied to all financial advisors.

Expected outcome

Expected outcomes would be a model act or set of regulatory principles endorsed by all major self-regulatory financial planner bodies, provincial regulators, consumer groups and investor rights bodies regarding the regulation of financial planners in Canada. Additionally, the research would produce valuable insight into the value of financial planning not only for individual Canadians, but also as a policy tool for using consumer financial resources most efficiently.

3. The Consumer Interest in Securities Regulation: Do Consumers Benefit from a National Securities Regulator?

Canada has been discussing the merits of a national securities regulator since 1964.
More Canadians own securities than ever before and many Canadians rely on these products for their retirement funds. Securities and investment funds are consumer goods and services and the regulation of the securities market has broader effects on the Canadian economy and Canadian consumers.

This project will study the consumer interest in securities regulation with a view to developing an informed consumer position on national securities regulation and what key elements need to be in place to provide consumers of securities products and consumers more generally with adequate consumer protection in this area. International approaches to consumer protection in securities regulation will be explored to learn from best practices.

Expected outcome

The expected outcome of the project is a consumer-based analysis of a national securities regulator and its potential benefits for Canadian consumers. This analysis will identify and recommend elements of securities regulations that are necessary for effective consumer protection in this area. This project will also inform a much needed consumer position on a Canadian national securities regulator.

4. The Consumer Interest in Spectrum Auctions

The Department of Industry is expected to consult on licensing measures for the band 2500-2690 MHz. PIAC will build on submissions to be made in the 700 MHz consultation as well as in its brief in the 2008 auction process to develop a consumer position on the issues at stake in the auction process.

PIAC will examine the issues at stake for consumers in spectrum auctions in general, and associated with the ongoing Canadian spectrum auction process in particular. These include considerations associated with the development of competitive markets including mandatory set asides for new entrants, the need for foreign investment, access to mobile services in rural and remote regions, public safety and timing of auctions.

Expected outcome

The intent of this study is to enable PIAC and potentially other consumer groups to have a resource document on applicable issues that can be used to inform future submissions or to participate in the public discourse.

5. Transparency in Broadband Advertising to Canadian Consumers

Broadband speed in Canada currently is advertised by most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as "up to" speeds. Such speed claims are technically difficult for consumers to verify and have been criticized as achievable only under ideal conditions such as being on a short connection, with high quality wiring, in the absence of normal and usual electrical interference, accessing only very rapid websites and absent competing demands of other users sharing the same hardware and software. These conditions are usually not advertised to consumers.

The study will examine broadband advertising and representations in the Canadian market and seek consumers' view on whether the ads are clear and understandable.

Expected outcome

A thorough review of broadband advertising guidelines and regulations in foreign jurisdictions will be performed with a view to distilling "best practices" for Canadian ISPs and to help develop self-regulatory or regulatory guidelines for such claims. In addition, education and guidance for consumers also will be reviewed to determine if Canadian consumers could be provided a set a questions to ask broadband providers to determine the appropriate level of service consumers would require to obtain adequate internet service at a reasonable price.