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Online campaign takes on ‘telecom price-gouging’

OpenMedia.ca is set to launch a new online campaign Wednesday to channel consumer anger over convoluted contracts for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

PAUL HACKETT/Reuters

An online activist group that once sparked a public outcry over the controversial issue of usage-based billing for Internet access is now taking aim at cellphone contracts.

OpenMedia.ca is set to launch a new online campaign Wednesday to channel consumer anger over convoluted contracts for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The group's launch of CellPhoneHorrorStory.ca comes as the federal telecommunications regulator seeks the public's input on creating a national code to strengthen consumer protections for wireless services.

Although OpenMedia.ca has expressed its support for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's public consultation, it worries that ordinary Canadians could find the process too daunting. The grassroots group is also concerned that the big three wireless incumbents, which have spent months urging the CRTC to create such a code, will use their collective influence to "weaken" its provisions.

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"The best way to make effective rules to protect citizens against telecom price-gouging is to ground them in the lived realities of Canadians," executive director Steve Anderson said in a press release. "Too many Canadians have been overcharged, put on hold for an unconscionable amount of time, or otherwise treated unfairly by cellphone companies."

Late last week, the CRTC invited ordinary Canadians to submit their views on the code's provisions and how it should be enforced. Consumers have until Nov. 20 to share their thoughts and can do so by mail, fax or online. The CRTC will then hold a public hearing on Jan. 28, 2013.

For its part, OpenMedia.ca plans to use consumer horror stories as part of a "crowd-sourced" submission, adding that it "expects the commission to take the time to read each story."

The regulator, which has demonstrated a new consumer focus under chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, is already handling large volumes of submissions. For example, the CRTC received thousands of interventions regarding BCE Inc.'s proposed acquisition of Astral Media Inc. and Mr. Blais took the time to read letters from consumers during hearings last month.

As for OpenMedia.ca, its online petition against usage-based billing, known as the "Stop The Meter" campaign, has garnered 507,668 signatures since it was launched in late 2010. Widespread consumer support for that online movement is believed to have influenced former industry minister Tony Clement to direct the CRTC to revise its first decision on UBB.

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