February 27, 2012
OpenMedia original article
Schmidt: Government-made consumer awareness tool dropped thanks to Big Telecom lobbying
After the government spent $1.4 million over three years to develop an online calculator allowing consumers to compare cellphone plans tailored to their usage patterns, then-industry minister Tony Clement killed the initiative just before its launch in 2009. At the time, his spokesman said it would have been ``irresponsible'' to launch it with ``inaccurate'' information.
Internal departmental records, only now released to Postmedia News under access to information after a long delay, show the department's Office of Consumer Affairs held a different view and defended the calculator against an aggressive lobby campaign by industry giants.
Clement sided with the companies after his office was lobbied directly by Rogers Communications, Telus Communications and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), the records show.
The revelations come just as Industry Minister Christian Paradis, Clement's successor, is set to announce new rules for its latest auction of wireless spectrum.
Consumer groups, such as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, are worried the Conservative government won't impose set-asides for new entrants to improve competition in the wireless market dominated by a few big telecoms, and instead opt for capping companies' total spectrum.
In a 10-page rebuttal drafted by Industry Canada in response to the industry association's criticisms of the online calculator, written just days before Clement pulled the plug on the project, the department said consumers were looking for a cellphone plan calculator from a trusted and impartial source.
``The Office of Consumer Affairs believes that the market distortion lies in the complexity of the marketplace which inhibits consumers' ability to make educated and informed choices. The Calculator mitigates this by providing consumers with a means to effectively and rationally analyze the marketplace and assess features and options based on their assessment of their own usage patterns. In the absence of such a tool, consumers would have great difficulty in performing this type of complex mathematical analysis,'' according to the rebuttal drafted May 13, 2009.
Two weeks later, Clement informed the department he had ``decided not to proceed with the product,'' the records show. Read more »
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