One of the most influential consumer advocacy organizations in the country — the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) — is on the verge of shutting its doors.
So says a new report from CBC, explaining that the organization, which has operated for the past 42 years, will soon run out of funding because the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), “the industry regulator the group so often prods,” takes too long in making big telecom companies pay the group for its work.
“We don’t exactly know why it’s taking so long to get paid,” PIAC executive director John Lawford told Go Public. “It’s a dire time right now.”
The large majority of PIAC’s budget, which is used to argue for better consumer protections from telecom industries, comes from work it does with the CRTC. As the report explains, the PIAC argues in the public interest before the CRTC, after which that cost of legal representation is to be paid by Canada’s largest telecom companies — Rogers, Telus, and Bell, for example.
“It’s a regular regulatory cost for the companies,” Lawford said. “It’s an important check on their sort of full-speed-ahead efforts to get what they want from the CRTC. And it’s a small and very efficient price to pay to have consumer and public input on decisions that affect millions of Canadians.”
According to Lawford, the CRTC has more than doubled the amount of time it takes to make the telecom companies pay the PIAC’s costs — from 3.7 months to 9.6 months. The PIAC is currently owed over $150,000, claims the report.
When asked by Go Public why it takes so long to make these payments, CRTC spokesperson Patricia Valladao said that it “depends on the complexity of the issues in each cost application.” Valladao also explained that the number of organizations applying for funding and the length of said process affects this waiting period.
Lawford says that the PIAC’s struggle with the CRTC is a reflection on the current state of consumer advocacy in Canada.
“Broad-based consumer groups are now reduced to either being run by volunteers with only one paid staff,” he said, “or they are specialists like we are, who find a very small niche because that’s the only way to stay solvent.”
“It’s important to have somebody to just stick up their finger in a [telecom] hearing and say, ‘Excuse me, consumers think this.’ And that’s what we do,” Lawford said. “It’s just sad to see it go.”
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