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

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1 Public Consultation Paper Contracts and Billing Practices for Cable TV and other Communication Services October 22, 2013

2 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 s 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, 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: 2

3 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. Proposed Cable Bill Protection Source: 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 at the end of this paper 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 by mail, or fax to: Consumer Protection Office Portage Avenue Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 0B8 Phone: (204) Toll Free: Fax: (204) Please submit your response by: January 31,

4 Confidentiality This public consultation paper is being undertaken by the Consumer Affairs Division of Manitoba Healthy Living, Seniors and Consumer Affairs. 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 Manitoba Tourism, Culture, Sport and Consumer Protection Broadway Winnipeg Manitoba R3C 3L6 Phone: (204)

5 Questionnaire 1. Please indicate which information and communication services you have previously or currently subscribe to (you may choose more than one): Traditional cable TV over coaxial cable (e.g. Shaw) Cable TV over traditional phone lines (e.g. MTS TV) Satellite TV (e.g. Shaw Direct, ExpressVu) Subscription TV services (e.g. Netflix) Virtual cable providers such as mytv or Apple TV Internet access (dial-up, cable, local area network, wireless home Wi-Fi, etc.) Home phone (land line) Cell phone (mobile device, smart phone) Alarm/remote security monitoring (would this include such services as Victoria Lifeline) 2. In the recent past, have you discontinued your subscription to cable TV? If yes, please provide comments about why you chose to discontinue you subscription to cable TV: 3. Have you ever been enticed by special introductory offers or low introductory rates that are often extended to new customers who sign up with an information and communication service provider (or to customers who switch from existing providers)? 5

6 If yes, please provide comments about your experience with introductory offers, including any concerns or issues you may have encountered: 4. Does your bill for information and communication services clearly indicate the current introductory price, the future regular price, and when the promotional period is set to end? 5. When you signed or agreed to your service contract, did you receive a detailed and itemized description of each good and/or service to be provided, including the associated monthly rate for each service provided? 6. When you signed or agreed to your service contract, did you receive information respecting applicable warranties for goods/equipment associated with the contract? 6

7 7. When you signed or agreed to your service contract, did you receive information on your right to cancel your contract, including any associated fees or penalties for doing so? 8. Does your contract clearly indicate (explain) the dispute mechanisms available to you? 9. When it comes to a service contract, how important are some of these items? Very Important Somewhat Important Not very Important A detailed and itemized description of each service to be provided, including the associated monthly fee for each service provided; The term (ex. month-to-month, 12 months, 24 months, 36 months etc.) and expiry date of the contract; The circumstances under which a consumer or company can cancel or amend a contract; Detailed description of the goods or services to be supplied under the contract, including relevant technical or system specifications; Information respecting applicable warranties; Fees for exceeding usage limits; The requirement for a security deposit; The terms under which the security deposit is refunded; Contact information for the supplier of the device and the supplier of the service; Customer service obligations of the supplier of the device and the supplier of the service; How the dispute resolution process works for such things as unauthorized charges; The value or existence of any rebate offers; The ability to cancel and the cost of cancelling the contract; The monthly rental or initial up-front cost of purchasing the required equipment in order to receive the service; 7

8 The requirement to continue paying for the service when the required equipment is sent for repair; The availability of substitute equipment when the required equipment is sent for repair; Restrictions regarding free and included services; Rights of service providers to unilaterally amend terms of a contract. 10. Have you ever been charged additional fees (above normal monthly charges) for unknown or unrequested goods or services? 11. Should service providers be required to offer customers the right to set a monthly maximum on their bill(s)? 12. Have you ever been required to continue paying for the service when the required equipment is sent for repair? 13. Have you ever had any problems with broken or defective equipment (e.g. satellite dishes, cable boxes, modems, etc.)? 8

9 14. Have you ever had difficulties receiving a refund for services that were not delivered or a refund of a security deposit? 15. Have you ever had difficulties canceling a service? 16. Do you believe that it is important that all consumers receive a paper contract and detailed paper bills? 17. Should service providers be able to charge extra for paper documents? 18. What do you think service providers could do to make bills and contracts more easily understood by consumers (e.g. font size, layout, style, language usage, etc.)? 9

10 19. Please provide any additional comments related to your experience with your information and communication services, service providers, introductory offers, advertising, contracts, bills, or billing practices that may be of interest to the Government on this issue: 20. Please identify yourself as any of the following groups: Consumer Service Provider Other: Thank You! Thank you for your time in completing this questionnaire. Your responses and comments are a valuable part of our consultation efforts on such issues. We may wish to contact you to clarify your submission or comments. If you are willing to be contacted please provide your name and contact information below. Please note that your name will not be placed on any mailing lists that are not related to this public consultation. Name: Address: 10

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