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Public Consultation Paper – Contracts and Billing Practices for Cable TV and other Communication Services

Introduction

If you are like many Manitobans, you likely subscribe to one or more of the many information and communication services available, such as cable or satellite television, telephone, internet, or cell phone service. Such services are important to us - some might even say they are essential - but as new technologies are developed and new service delivery models introduced, it can be difficult to keep up with all the changes.

For example, while traditional cable television is familiar to many Manitoba households, the provision of television services is expanding and innovating. You can now get “television” over a range of technologies, including:

  • television provided over traditional telephone lines (e.g. MTS TV)
  • video-on-demand and pay-per-view services with cable and satellite providers
  • subscription video services such as “Netflix”
  • virtual cable providers such as “myTV” or “Apple TV”

With new technologies, we are now able to access much of our personal information and communication services, including television, using a range of new devices such as smart-phones, tablet computers, net-books, set-top-boxes and gaming consoles.  Similar changes are also occurring across other types of technologies and communication services - it is now possible to read emails on our smart-phones, surf the web on our televisions, and make telephone calls on our computers.

But as the technology and content for such services increases in scope and complexity, so too can the advertising, contracts and billings practices.  This can make it difficult for consumers to understand what their options are, what a fair price for such services might be, and even how much they can expect to pay at the end of the month.  This can be particularly true in cases where service providers bundle multiple services, offer all-in-one pricing, actively promote low introductory prices, or impose barriers or penalties for cancelling services.

Consumer Protection

Current Cell Phone Protection

Legislation to increase protection for cell phone users in Manitoba came into effect in September, 2012. This new legislation provides consumers with greater rights through the introduction of rules for cell phone contracts that now require companies to:

  • provide a copy of the contract to consumers before the contract begins;
  • fully disclose and explain all charges fees and terms;
  • refrain from making unilateral changes to contract terms;
  • stop automatically renewing cell phone contracts; and
  • allow consumer to cancel contracts at any time, for a reasonable cancellation fee.

Similarly, the federal government’s Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has developed a wireless “code of conduct” for cell phone companies, which is to come into effect on December 2, 2013 and provides consumers with greater rights to:

  • receive contract information;
  • cancel contracts;
  • return phones;
  • have their phones “unlocked”;
  • have their service suspended at no cost if their phone is lost or stolen;
  • receive notification when entering “roaming” areas (e.g. a different service area);
  • limit or cap their own data overage and roaming charges;
  • pay no extra charges for a service described as “unlimited”; and
  • refuse a change to the key terms and conditions of their contract.

Source: CRTC – Checklist: Do You Know Your Rights as a Wireless Consumer?

Proposed Cable Bill Protection

The Manitoba government made a commitment in November 2012 in its Speech from the Throne to introduce new measures to protect consumers related to their cable bills. On the basis of preliminary studies — and in light of the technological and service offering changes noted in the section above — it has been recommended that consultations be undertaken to address issues with contract and billing practices for both cable and other types of information and communication services. The purpose of this consultation document and questionnaire is to provide Manitobans with an opportunity to share their views on issues related to advertising, contracts, and billing practices related to “cable television” and other personal information and communication services.

Feedback

Your responses to the questions posed in the following questionnaire are very much appreciated, as are any additional comments you feel would help inform the issue. Your feedback will be used to ensure strong, continuing consumer protection, while providing clear and consistent rules that support a stable marketplace and level playing field for business.

Responses to the questions may be submitted directly using the online survey tool or by submitting this questionnaire pdf by mail, email or fax to:

Consumer Protection Office
302-258 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba    R3C 0B8
Phone: (204) 945-3800
Toll Free: 1-800-782-0067
Fax: (204) 945-0728
Email: consumers@gov.mb.ca

For a paper copy of this discussion paper and survey:
Public Consultation Paper - Contracts and Billing Practices for Cable TV and other Communication Services and Questionnaire pdf

Please submit your response by: January 31, 2014.

Confidentiality

This public consultation paper is being undertaken by the Consumer Protection Division of Tourism, Culture, Sport and Consumer Protection. Your submission and comments are an important part of the review process.  Any personal information you provide is protected by The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and will be used only to assist in the review of issues related to advertising, contracts, and billing practices associated with the provision of communication services in Manitoba.

Your comments will be shared with employees carrying out this review, and may also involve disclosing your comments to others participating or interested in the consultation during and after the consultations, through various means such as written reports and the internet. Be assured, however, that your personal identity including your name will not be disclosed to the public without your consent. Please be aware that the identity of an organization may be made public in connection with its submission or comments.

You may be contacted by a government representative to clarify your submission or comments. Your name will not be placed on any mailing lists that are not related to the public consultation.

Our authority to collect any personal information you provide is section 36(1)(b) of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Any personal information you provide as a part of this consultation is protected by the Act. If you have any questions about the collection, use or disclosure of your personal information, please contact:

Kevin Danner
Tourism, Culture, Sport and Consumer Protection
1534-405 Broadway
Winnipeg Manitoba R3C 3L6
Phone: (204) 945-7892
kevin.danner@gov.mb.ca