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Unlocked Phone Rule Sparks Carrier-Alleged Smartphone Crime Spree in Canada

Criminals are supposedly having a field day robbing cell phone stores in Canada after regulators ordered all cell phones to be sold unlocked, allowing customers to bring their devices to other carriers.

“There have been multiple instances of armed robberies at our stores targeting unlocked, new devices,” Bell Canada complained in a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). “We believe this trend is attributable to the availability of unlocked devices [that are] more desirable to fraudsters and thieves.”

Because Canada’s three major carrier-cell phone marketplace is seen as less competitive and more expensive than the United States, the CRTC has tried to keep wireless service costs under control by regulating some of the practices of the barely competitive Canadian market. One such initiative is the ban on charging unlock fees on devices, which carriers used to deter customers from changing providers. As of last December, carriers could no longer collect an average of $50 to unlock each device, and new devices had to be sold to customers in an unlocked state, allowing them to be used on any compatible wireless provider’s network.

Rogers, which runs Canada’s largest cable operator and has a major market share of Canada’s wireless market, claims the unintended consequence of the CRTC’s unlock policy is a 100% increase in cell phone thievery during the last six months the policy has been in effect. Rogers reports thieves are stealing brand new cell phones in the mail or off a customer’s front step after the shipper drops the package off. Brazen armed robberies of cell phone stores have been more common in the United States, but providers claim criminal gangs are now taking their business north of the border, holding up stores and running off with dozens of valuable phones.

Both Bell and Rogers warned the CRTC last year thievery would be the likely result of providing unlocked phones. Consumer groups claim both providers have a vested interest complaining about the new unlock policies. In 2016, Canadian telecom companies made $37.7 million from fees related to unlocking smartphones. That was a 75 percent increase in fee revenue since 2014.

Canadian consumers called unlock charges “ransom fees,” and were particularly upset paying fees after they paid off the device.

“You should be able to unlock it [for free] at the very least once you’ve paid off the device. You own it,” John Lawford, executive director with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa told the CBC.

Lawford calls unlock fees an intended consequence of the industry’s own policies. Cell phone companies sell devices manufacturers have to lock at the behest of carriers, and then consumers face fees paid to the same carriers to undo the lock.

Canada’s providers often point to examples of armed robberies and truck hijacking south of the Canadian border as a reason to be concerned about employee and customer safety. In the view of some, an unlocked smartphone worth more than $500 is an invitation to steal.

Bell told regulators things are certain to get worse in Canada.

“It appears that illegal activity may have shifted from the U.S. to Canada as some [American] carriers have begun to lock devices,” Bell officials told the CRTC.

Bell was referring to Verizon’s unilateral announcement it began relocking smartphones in February, despite its agreement not to as part of an acquisition of 700 MHz spectrum in 2008. That prime spectrum came with strings attached, including a requirement not to disable or restrict devices that use the spectrum, something locked phones do. Verizon previously tested the waters on reintroducing locked cell phones during the second term of the Obama Administration, but the idea met immediate resistance from FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler.

In 2018, Verizon found a much more receptive audience from the Republican-dominated FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai, and has gradually returned to locking down devices on Verizon’s network. Last spring, Verizon began locking all smartphones sent to stores, to be unlocked after purchase. Verizon argued this would deter armed gangs from hijacking deliveries or raiding stores to steal phones by the dozens, to be resold to the eager black market.

After meeting little resistance, Verizon announced it would start locking phones for an arbitrary amount of time after purchase, defined in terms of “months, not years.”

If thieves obtain a stolen, locked phone, it cannot generally be activated by the customer unless taken to an authorized retailer. This theoretically leaves thieves stuck with worthless phones, which is why Canadian carriers claim the country’s unlocked phone policy will draw American thieves north. But critics suspect financial motives hold more sway. In addition to charging lucrative fees for unlocking phones, customers unable to take their device with them to a new carrier can effectively deter a provider change, especially for family accounts where multiple devices would need to be moved.

Others claim locking phones is not the best way to deter thieves, because an unscrupulous Verizon employee or reseller can still unlock them for thieves.

The wireless industry already claims to have a voluntary, industry-led initiative to dramatically reduce theft — a national database of stolen/lost phones. Under this system, a would-be customer is denied activation if their device’s unique ID appears on a list of stolen or lost phones.

CBC Calgary reports Canadians no longer face unlock fees on their smartphones and other wireless devices. (3:55)

Competition Drives Internet Prices Down 45% in Toronto This Summer

Fierce competition by eastern Canada’s largest internet service providers are driving down prices across the Greater Toronto Area by as much as 45%.

Bell’s fiber to the home service, making its way across parts of the GTA, is now offering unlimited gigabit (1,000/940 Mbps) internet for $79.95 a month, a major drop from its original price of $149.95, if customers sign up before the end of July. Those signing up by July 7 can also get a $50 gift card.

Rogers, the country’s biggest cable company, has been pushing its own limited time promotional offer for its gigabit (1,000/30 Mbps) package, which is more widely available than Bell’s Fibe but also suffers from anemic upload speed. Rogers was selling the package for $152.99/month, but it’s now $79.99 for the first year. The offer is good throughout Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland.

The two telecom companies are trying to boost subscriber numbers during the slow summer months when quarterly financial reports can show a decrease in customers.

Canadians have generally had less access to gigabit speed plans than their American neighbors. Experts believe these companies are cutting prices to hook people on super-fast internet plans that will change consumer attitudes about gigabit speed from an unaffordable luxury into a necessity. Like Americans, Canadians are gravitating towards faster speed plans at an accelerating rate. They also continue to choose unlimited plans wherever available.

There are the usual terms and conditions in the fine print to consider:

Rogers: Offer available for a limited time to new Rogers internet subscribers within Rogers cable service area in Ontario (where technology permits). Subject to change without notice. Data usage subject to Rogers Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy. See rogers.com/terms for full details. Taxes extra. One-time activation fee of $14.95 and one-time installation fee (waived for Self-Install; Basic $49.99 or Professional $99.99) apply. Savings as compared to regular price for 12 months. Advertised regular price applies in month 13, subject to any applicable rate increases.

Speeds may vary with internet traffic, server gateway/router, computer (quality, location in the home, software and applications installed), home wiring, home network or other factors. See Acceptable Use Policy at rogers.com/terms. An Ethernet/wired connection and at least one additional wired or wireless connection are required to reach maximum download speeds of up to 1 Gbps for Rogers Ignite Gigabit Internet. Offer available until July 31, 2018 within Rogers cable service area (where technology permits) to new customers subscribing to Ignite Internet 60u or above.

Bell: Offer ends on July 31, 2018. Available to new residential customers in Ontario, where access and technology permit. For certain offers, the customer must select e-billing and create a MyBell profile. Modem rental required; one-time modem rental fee waived for new customers. Subject to change without notice and cannot be combined with any other offer. Taxes extra. Other conditions apply, including minimum system requirements. Subject to compliance with the Bell Terms of service; bell.ca/agreements.. Speeds on the internet may vary with your configuration, internet traffic, server, environmental conditions, simultaneous use of Fibe TV (if applicable) or other factors; bell.ca/speedguide.

$50 gift card promotion: Offer ends on July 7, 2018. The selected internet tier must include unlimited usage. An unloaded gift card will be mailed after the customer maintains a continuous subscription to the same eligible Bell services and has an account in good standing for 60 days following the installation of all services. All services need to be activated by July 31, 2018. Not combinable with any other offers or promotions. Subject to change without notice. One gift card per account. When received, customer must register the gift card online at bellgiftcard.com to request loading of the amount. Allow 30 days for gift card to be loaded and ready to use. If you cancel your services before you activate your gift card, you will not be able to use your gift card. Gift card and use are subject to the card program. Other conditions apply; see bell.ca/fullinstall.

Bell Expands Fiber to the Home Service to Oshawa, Ont.

Bell today announced it will spend $100 million dollars to expand its all-fiber network to 60,000 homes and businesses in Oshawa, Ont.

The Bell Fibe upgrade will bring gigabit upload and download speed to the community, located east of Toronto. It is part of Bell’s larger plan to upgrade 1.3 million homes and businesses across the GTA/905 region around Toronto to fuel southern Ontario’s digital economy.

Earlier this month, Bell launched its all-fiber network in the city of Toronto, which reaches more than one million residents around Canada’s largest city.

“We welcome Bell’s investment in Oshawa to provide our residents, businesses and visitors with access to truly world-class Internet connectivity,” said Oshawa Mayor John Henry. “High-speed networks are a primary driver of growth and innovation, supporting Oshawa’s status as a Smart City and our 5 key areas of economic growth – advanced manufacturing, energy generation, health and biosciences, multimodal transportation and logistics, and information technologies.”

Bell’s network is currently capable of delivering up to 40 Gbps broadband speed, and is infinitely upgradable to even faster speeds in the future. Residents will be able to subscribe to the new service beginning this fall. New customers will pay $79.95 a month for gigabit speeds for the first year, $149.95 a month after that. A $59.95 installation fee also applies.

Bell’s fiber network now extends across more than 240,000 kilometers and is Canada’s largest fiber network. Bell provides fiber broadband in four Atlantic provinces, Québec, Ontario and Manitoba, serving 9.2 million customers over its older fiber-to-the-neighborhood network (similar to AT&T U-verse) and over 3.7 million fiber to the home subscribers — a number expected to exceed 4.5 million by the end of this year.

Oshawa will join several other “all-fiber” cities across Canada, which include St. John’s, Gander, Summerside, Charlottetown, Halifax, Sydney, Moncton and Fredericton — all in Atlantic Canada, Québec City, Trois-Rivières, Saint-Jérôme and Gatineau in Québec, Cornwall, Kingston, Toronto, North Bay and Sudbury in Ontario, and Steinbach and The Pas in Manitoba. Bell unveiled its major Montréal all-fiber project in 2017 and other major new centers getting Bell Fibe to the home will be announced later this year.

Trudeau Ends Endless Debate on Taxing Internet Content Providers: Canadians Pay Enough Already

Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly blunders through the dicey issue of Canadian content on Netflix in a press tour called “disastrous” by critics.

The arrival of Netflix Canada and its tens of thousands of alternative on-demand viewing choices has had defenders of Canadian culture up in arms ever since the American interloper showed up.

A little background:

For Canada, the dominance of their neighbor to the south has always presented a challenge to a country that fears having its cultural independence steamrolled and its official two-language experience watered down by an avalanche of English-language content. Canadian broadcasters and cable networks are governed by regulations that require they reserve at least 50% of their program schedule for Canadian content (the percentage varies slightly for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Société Radio-Canada — Canada’s public broadcaster, and Canadian cable networks).

Because Canada is a much smaller media market than the United States, finding the money to produce enough high quality Canadian TV shows and movies has always been a challenge. Most recently, Canada’s telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) mandated that broadcasters spend 30% of their revenues on original Canadian content. As a result, many commercial networks and stations spend that money on cheap reality shows or news content to satisfy Canadian content requirements. While that fulfills the government mandate, it doesn’t always fulfill the demands of many Canadian viewers that prefer to watch something else.

Netflix’s streaming service in Canada competes directly with those broadcasters, as well as Canadian cable and phone company on-demand services, but is not subject to the same content laws because the 25-year old law governing broadcasting was written before there was the prospect of online streaming alternatives. In less than a decade Netflix has grown its original business renting DVD’s through the mail into a multi-billion dollar international streaming business that has deeper content acquisition pockets than any Canadian media entity.

The Liberal Party of Canada is trying to manage Canadian content rules now 25 years old, before the era of streaming video.

There is also a technology shift in play here. What exactly constitutes “media” is open to debate. Traditional broadcast media now competes with newly emerging, and largely unregulated digital social media (a-la Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and online over-the-top services (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc.) Broadcasters are regulated in the public interest and have lived under that framework for decades. Upstart new media relies on an internet platform that has never been significantly regulated at all.

Efforts by the government and Canada’s creative community to get Netflix Canada to follow the Canadian content model has largely failed, and it seems unlikely Netflix will ever see itself tied down by content or language quotas. It flies in the face of Netflix’s marketing — giving customers unlimited access to the content they want to see, not what a bureaucrat in Montreal or Ottawa wants customers to see.

Netflix has hired some high-priced lobbyists to make sure their interests are represented before federal and provincial officials, and it has been a constant battle over the last two years as the service confronts content regulators, those upset about the service’s lack of French Canadian titles, and the desire by some of Canada’s political parties and provinces, Quebec notably, to subject Netflix to federal and provincial sales and value-added taxes (GST/HST).

The federal government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has refused to impose these kinds of taxes on Netflix or other foreign-headquartered internet services, despite the fact many fellow members of the Liberal Party think it should. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage called for an internet tax last June, and content creator groups have lobbied the government hard to demand Netflix be required to substantially invest in homegrown Canadian productions envisioned, filmed, and produced by Canadians.

It has also the components you need to create a melodrama:

  • a deep-pocketed and arrogant American corporation that made an inelegant entry into Canada and alienated the CRTC by refusing to disclose information to the regulator;
  • a sense of an unfair playing field where Canadian companies face sales/use taxes while American companies like Netflix don’t;
  • the ongoing fear among Canada’s Francophone community that their political and language sovereignty is under threat;
  • the ongoing fear of Canadians that their cultural sovereignty will be washed away by an American cultural tsunami.

The Liberals’ Sacrificial Lamb: Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly’s Disaster Tour

Some Francophone tabloids in Quebec specialize is assaulting all-things-Liberal, especially Mélanie Joly.

Trudeau’s point person on the Netflix controversy in 2017 was Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, who was swept into the political maelstrom during a cross-country tour to promote the government’s new Creative Canada cultural policy. By all accounts, it was an unmitigated disaster for the government.

Joly’s performance in Quebec — her home province where she serves as MP for the Ahuntsic-Cartierville riding in Montreal, managed what few thought possible — uniting critics from the province’s governing Liberals with the sovereigntist Parti Québécois and the left-wing party Québec Solidaire.

Mathieu Bock-Côté, writing in the Journal de Montréal, claimed Joly was guilty of “dereliction of duty.”

After Joly bizarrely asserted on Radio-Canada’s popular talk show Tout le monde en parle (“Everyone’s Talking About It”) that Vidéotron, Quebec’s largest cable operator with over 1.6 million subscribers was not a cable company, center-right tabloids Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec, both specializing in attacking all-things-Trudeau, had a field day. One columnist labeled Joly “Mélangée Joly” ( All-mixed-up Joly). Her propensity to stick close to her index card talking points and repeat them over and over, regardless of the question asked, bemused columnist Richard Martineau, who wrote Joly sounded “like a living answering machine having a nervous breakdown.”

In Quebec, the debate over tax fairness shared the stage with concerns about how much attention Netflix will pay producing French Canadian content.

In hopes of assuaging concerns, Joly announced Ottawa would increase investment in the $349 million Canada Media Fund to make up for shortfalls from declining contributions based on decreasing revenue from Canadian cable operators. She also promised $125 million to promote Canadian productions abroad. Heads that first nodded in agreement over the announcement quickly froze after Joly also announced Netflix would be exempt from federal sales tax in return for a five-year commitment to invest $100 million annually in Canadian content and $25 million specifically for “market development” of French-language content, whatever that means.

The lack of any specific commitment on French language programming went over like a lead balloon and ignited a firestorm of criticism over the perception Joly was going to rely entirely on Netflix Canada to protect and manage francophone programming on its own terms.

“We are alarmed as Francophones because there is no guarantee that a part of this [$100 million annually] is going to francophone content,” said Gabriel Pelletier, head of the province’s producers’ union, the Association des réalisateurs et réalisatrices du Québec. “Cultural questions are definitely more sensitive and obvious in Quebec, but my colleagues in the rest of Canada have similar priorities. We need to be able to see ourselves and our own stories in cultural content. Our own distributors play by very strict rules, but here we are giving Netflix a red carpet and an open market. It could lead to the disintegration of our entire regulatory system, because Rogers and Bell might say ‘Why do we have to pay when Netflix doesn’t have to?”

Joly also made little headway defending the Liberal government’s sales tax policy exempting Netflix. Appearing on Cogeco-owned CHMP-FM in Montreal, Joly was questioned by center-right talk show host Paul Arcand over her claim the decision not to tax Netflix was based on the Liberals’ promise not to raise taxes.

“Tou.tv (Radio-Canada’s streaming film service] is taxed. Vidéotron’s Illico is taxed; we are not talking about adding a new tax, we’re talking about taxing a product thacrticismt already exists,” Arcand said. “Are you ready to remove the taxes for those two comparable [Canadian] companies?”

Joly did not specifically answer.

Cartoonists have been particularly vicious over the Netflix affair, portraying Joly as vapid or a camera-friendly tall, blond, 38-year old politician more style than substance. Some of her critics on the right — usually older middle-aged men, according to her defenders — ‘cross the line’ into sexism by repeatedly calling Joly “the majorette” — a reference to a baton twirling performer usually seen in marching bands during parades.

Despite the criticism, Joly rarely sat back and allowed those perceptions to go unchallenged.

A tradition among guests on Tout le monde en parle is to end their segment by reading aloud a card handed to them by a producer that succinctly summarizes their position. Viewers understand the words are written by the producer and not the guest, but Joly unilaterally decided to change her card. The original said, “It’s amazing that with all the digital media available, our politicians have stayed faithful to the cassette.” Joly replaced the word “cassette” with the word “innovation.”

Dany Turcotte, the show’s co-producer tasked with creating the cards, was not happy with Joly’s change.

“When someone changes the meaning of my cards, ça me met en t****,” using an expression that roughly translates to “that makes me f***ing angry.”

The NDP vs. the Liberals

After the embarrassing press tour ended, the issue went back on simmer mode until Feb. 5, when an opposition members of the NDP brought the issue forward once again during the House of Commons Question Time, where members can directly question the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Julian

“The government seems more than happy to let web giants continue to make huge profits without contributing to the Canadian economy,” said MP Peter Julian (NDP-New Westminster/Burnaby, B.C.). “While the rest of the world is trying to make these companies pay, the Liberals are doing the opposite. They are making deals with Netflix and other companies, and offering massive tax breaks. Canadians pay their taxes and expect companies to do the same. When will the Liberals start making web giants pay their fair share?”

“Mr. Speaker, the NDP is proposing to raise taxes on the middle class, which is something we promised we would not do and have not done,” responded Prime Minister Trudeau. “We explicitly promised in the 2015 election campaign that we would not be raising taxes on Netflix. People may remember Stephen Harper’s attack ads on that. They were false. We actually moved forward in demonstrating that we were not going to raise taxes on consumers, who pay enough for their internet at home.”

“Mr. Speaker, is it fair that Netflix, Facebook, and other web giants have to pay neither sales nor income tax whereas Canadian companies in the same sector do?” followed up MP Guy Caron (NDP-Rimouski-Neigette/Témiscouata/Les Basques, Que.) “Around the world, other countries are trying to make sure that these web giants pay their fair share. Australia and the European Union are excellent examples. After all, it is those giants that are going to monopolize the advertising market and suck the lifeblood out of our print media. They are also responsible for the challenges facing print media. Instead of reining in the web giants and ensuring a level playing field for everyone, the Liberals want to make this preferential treatment official. When will the Liberals show some backbone and level the playing field?”

Trudeau

“Mr. Speaker, we are not going to raise taxes on Canadians. That is what the NDP is asking us to do,” responded Trudeau. “We recognize that the media environment and television viewing and production are changing rapidly. That is why we reached out and got Netflix to make historic investments in our content creators here in Quebec and Canada, to help them succeed in this changing universe. We have a great deal of confidence in our creators; the approach we have chose is a testament to that.”

In a later exchange, the issue of Netflix and taxation was debated by MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault (NDP-Sherbrooke, Que.) and Sean Casey, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage:

Dusseault: My question primarily has to do with the Netflix agreement. Everyone is starting to understand how this agreement gives Netflix a tax advantage over its competitors. I want to follow up on this issue and on the government’s completely twisted logic. Last week, the government kept spouting the same empty rhetoric to explain why it decided to give Netflix a tax holiday. This tax holiday was granted in exchange for an investment, but there is no guarantee of this investment. Netflix is getting a tax holiday in exchange for the infamous agreement presented by the Minister of Canadian Heritage. This is what I would like to talk about today.

The government gave a foreign company a tax break for doing business in Canada without having to abide by same tax rules as its competitors. This company is doing business with Canadian consumers. When it sells a product to consumers in Canada, it does not have to charge GST or federal sales tax because the government is allowing this situation to continue. The government is allowing a company to sell a product, in this case a subscription to Netflix, without charging consumers any GST.

According to the government and its twisted logic, this is not a problem because that is just how things work. That is the government’s reason for not forcing Netflix to charge GST. It is possible to make Netflix charge sales tax because several other countries have already done so. Although Netflix is an American company that operates all over the world, it pays sales tax in some countries. Most countries actually have taxes associated with the sale of goods and services.

Dusseault

Canada can make Netflix charge sales tax. It is possible. The argument that the government cannot do this does not hold water. In fact, the government is not even using that argument. In the beginning, the Minister of Canadian Heritage said that it was too complicated and that it would require an international agreement to make Netflix charge sales tax. That is completely untrue.

Now the government’s argument is that it does not want to impose a new tax on consumers. Based on the government’s twisted logic, the GST is a new tax. This is like telling huge multinationals like Target or Walmart that when they come to Canada to sell their goods and services, they will not have to charge their customers GST at the checkout because that would be a new tax. This is like telling a new company that sets up shop in Canada that we cannot ask it to charge GST because that would be a new tax, and Canadians cannot afford any new taxes. That is the logic the Liberals are using today. In other words, they are saying that a foreign company or multinational that has a physical presence in Canada does not have to charge GST, although the store next door does.

Can my colleague explain how the government came up with this logic? How is the GST a new tax for businesses?

Casey: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my honorable colleague from Sherbrooke for giving us a chance to talk about the many benefits of the agreement with Netflix.This government strongly believes that the establishment of a new Canadian business in the film and television production sector by Netflix is wonderful news for Canadian creators and producers, and ultimately for our cultural industries as a whole.

The approval of this significant investment in Canada under the Investment Canada Act is yet another indication of our government’s strong commitment to growing Canada’s creative industries, with new investments that create more opportunities for creators and producers across the country. In fact, this major investment of a minimum of $500 million over the next five years on original productions in Canada will provide them with even greater access to financing, business partners, and ultimately new ways to connect with audiences across the globe.

Casey

Such an unprecedented investment by a digital platform in Canada, a first of its kind for Netflix outside of the United States, is yet another confirmation to the world that Canada is a great place to invest, attesting to the creative talent of this country and the strong track record of our cultural industries in creating films and television productions that really stand out.

It is important to make a distinction between the cultural activities of Netflix Canada, which has committed to investing a minimum of $500 million Canadian in the production of Canadian-made films and television series, with the activities of its U.S.-based video streaming service. These are in fact two separate kinds of cultural activities.

It is also important to reiterate that all businesses, including those involved in television and film production that set up and operate in Canada, must abide by the Canadian tax system, which includes GST. Given that Netflix Canada plans to operate a production company in Canada, it will have to comply with all GST-related rules, which could apply to its production activities in Canada.

Lastly I would like to point out that Netflix announced last week that it has acquired the award-winning Canadian film, Les Affamés, written and directed by Robin Aubert, one of the most unique voices in Quebec’s cinema, to be made available on the international market as early as this coming March. This represents the first of many Canadian films and television series to be acquired or produced by Netflix Canada as a result of its significant investment announced last fall.

Dusseault: Mr. Speaker, I know the parliamentary secretary is trying to draw a distinction between Netflix Canada and Netflix USA. I know the two are different. However, he avoided answering my question about Netflix USA subscriptions that are not subject to GST. That was probably intentional, so I would like him to comment on this specific issue. Netflix USA sells a product to Canadian consumers and, unlike its competitors, does not have to collect GST.

Can my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, explain to me why a foreign company is exempt from the tax rules that apply to Canadian businesses? Why are Canadian consumers not paying tax on Netflix subscriptions?

Casey: Mr. Speaker, Netflix Canada created a new film and television production company. This is great news for Canadian creators and producers. Once again, over the next five years, Netflix will invest a minimum of $500 million Canadian in original productions produced in Canada in English and in French for distribution on Netflix’s global platform.

Caron

Let us not forget that Netflix already has a strong track record of investing in Canadian producers and content, with recent examples including Anne and Alias Grace with the CBC, Travelers with Showcase, and Frontier with Discovery.

We believe that this significant investment in Canada demonstrates that Netflix is committed to continuing to be a meaningful partner in supporting Canadian creators, producers, and the Canadian creative expression.

A day later, Caron was ready to follow up with the Prime Minister.

“Mr. Speaker, when we ask him why web giants like Netflix and Facebook do not have to charge sales tax even though their Canadian competitors do, the Prime Minister says that he promised not to raise taxes for the middle class. We are talking about a tax that already exists, sales tax. We want fairness in the industry. It is unacceptable that the Prime Minister does not have the courage to ask web giants to pay their fair share. When will the Prime Minister understand that and insist on fair treatment for the entire industry?”

“Mr. Speaker, once again, as the NDP has said, web giants must pay their fair share,” responded Trudeau. “It is not web giants that the NDP wants to charge, it is taxpayers. The New Democrats want to make taxpayers pay more taxes. They want Canadians, Quebec and Canadian taxpayers, to pay more taxes for their online services. We, on this side of the House, promised not to raise taxes for taxpayers, and we are going to stand by that promise. If the New Democrats want to raise taxes for Canadians, they should say so instead of hiding behind talk of big corporations.”

“Mr. Speaker, he does not get it,” retorted Caron. “We are not talking about a new tax; we are talking about a tax that already exists and must be collected by Canadian competitors. He needs to follow the example of France, Australia, and many American states that have decided to make these web giants pay. Even here at home, the whole province of Quebec wants to do the same. Imposing on Bombardier a sales tax that is not required of Boeing would be unthinkable, so why do it in the online sector? Not only is the Prime Minister trying to justify these tax breaks, but he is going even further by making deals with those companies. When will the Liberals stop getting into bed with these web giants?”

“Mr. Speaker, once again, the New Democrats are misleading Canadians,” replied Trudeau. “They are talking about making web giants pay their fair share. It is not the web giants they want to pay more in taxes; it is taxpayers. We made a commitment to taxpayers that they would not have to pay more for their online services. We on this side of the House plan to keep that promise.”

Trudeau Settles the Matter… for Some

The issue of Netflix, taxation, and to some extent Canadian content has apparently resonated with the NDP, as their members return to press the issue with the Liberals again and again. But Trudeau’s steadfast response has made it clear his government intends to bury the issue once and for all.

In a sense, both sides are right. Canadian content regulations and protections for Canadian culture and the francophone community in Canada are at risk of being diluted by an onslaught of cord-cutting and new online streaming services that do not always recognize the sensitivity of these issues for many Canadians. As viewers gain new choices, especially those not subject to regulatory oversight, the dominance of American streaming services will be even more apparent than the dominance of Hollywood and American network television. Netflix is not in the business to cater to Canadian content quotas and likely never will unless the government mandates it.

French language content on Netflix will largely come from European producers and networks in France and to a lesser degree Belgium and Switzerland.

But Netflix’s enormous budget for content development does open the door to opportunities for Canadian productions with budgets Canadian networks like CBC, CTV, Global, TVA, and Radio-Canada can only dream about. Quality should trump quotas, and may the best productions win.

Canadian telecom companies have a pervasive presence in all forms of Canadian entertainment. Bell (Canada) owns Bell Media, which in turn owns CTV – Canada’s largest privately owned commercial network. City, which has network affiliates in Canada’s largest cities, is owned by Rogers, Canada’s largest cable operator (Rogers also owns Omni Television, a multicultural network). Global is owned by Corus Entertainment, which in turn is controlled substantially by Shaw Communications, western Canada’s largest cable operator. Canadian cable and telco-TV providers run their own streaming services which are subject to sales taxes, while foreign streaming companies like Netflix are not. There is a case to be made for a lack of a level-playing field.

But Prime Minister Trudeau is also correct stating that any new taxes imposed on Netflix Canada or other new entrants would immediately be passed on to subscribers and raise the price of internet services. The Liberals’ platform during the last election insisted that the party wanted universal access to affordable broadband service for all Canadians and no taxes on Netflix. For many consumers, the price of content and the price of access are essentially the same thing.

Netflix has thrown a “token” $500 million at the problem in hopes of placating its Canadian critics. It may be enough to satisfy Vancouver and Toronto, where many series and movies are filmed, and it certainly has “resolved” the matter for the Liberal government of Mr. Trudeau, but it seems unlikely to soothe the concerns of Quebec and its vocal and proud francophone community. Quebec could move forward and impose a provincial sales tax on Netflix at any time, and will likely continue to pose a challenge to Netflix Canada until the company seems more sensitive to the concerns raised in many quarters in Montreal, Quebec City, and beyond. The creative community of French Canada can deliver some excellent productions, so long as Anglophiles are willing to read subtitles. Netflix may have to spend more money to make certain those types of shows turn up on the service in the not too distant future.

More Rogers Employees Speak Out: “A Calculated Game of Misery” for Customers

Phillip Dampier January 18, 2018 Canada, Consumer News, Rogers No Comments

Rogers Communications’ call center workers treated customers as adversaries and allegedly placed unauthorized charges on customer bills, didn’t disclose service fees, and avoided downgrading or disconnecting service while managers encouraged these practices and lectured workers it was not their job to worry about what customers thought.

Days after CBC News’ Go Public unit revealed stories of customer abuse shared by Rogers’ call center workers, more than two dozen additional current and former workers have now come forward confirming the first report and declaring the company’s call center work environment was uniformly “toxic,” “intense,” “high pressure,” and abusive to employees and customers alike.

“It was a calculated game of misery.” 

Rogers management cares about only one thing, employees claim — making money any way a representative can, even if it means pushing products and services on unsuspecting customers.

A four-year employee at Rogers call center in Brampton, Ont., who left in 2015, still vividly remembers he was trained to trick customers at every turn.

  • He and his colleagues were trained not mention cancellation fees charged by other providers when a customer switched to Rogers.

“Because these fees were not charged by Rogers itself, we were told to gloss over them as quickly, vaguely and incoherently as possible,” he writes. “Often while the customer was speaking at the same time.”

  • Agents were shown how to quietly remove some services from a customer’s account while adding others that counted towards a monthly sales goal, hoping the customer wouldn’t notice.

This trick, he told CBC News, involved secretly reducing certain services — such as the number of television channels a customer received — so an agent could add new services, such as a home phone line they didn’t necessarily need, but that earned points towards monthly sales target.

“It was a calculated game of misery,” he says. “How much could you lower their existing services so they wouldn’t immediately notice, while at the same time adding as much in new services as you could?”

“It’s not your job to care.”

In its original report, CBC News quoted a Rogers spokesperson who denied knowledge of these practices and declared there was no tolerance for employees who mistreated customers. But the latest group of employees to come forward consider the abuses systematic and occurred with the full knowledge of company managers and supervisors.

The former worker in Brampton noted that when he brought concerns to his manager questioning the ethics of some of the business practices he was reminded he worked in sales and was told, “It’s not your job to care.”

Intentionally Frustrating Customers Until They Give Up and Hang Up

If a customer called in to complain about something on their bill, downgrade, or cancel service — all things that could affect sales targets, it was ‘all hands on deck’ among call center workers and their colleagues. In addition to hanging up on customers trying to cancel service, Rogers customer service representatives tricked customers trying to escalate a problem to a manager. Instead of transferring calls to an actual manager, employees were taught to transfer the call to a fellow agent who was prepared to repeat claims there was nothing Rogers could do to resolve the issue.

“The goal,” he says, “was for the customer to be so frustrated, speaking to someone who couldn’t do anything more than you, that they ended the call.”

“The things that go on behind closed doors would leave you speechless.”

Debbie Sears (Image courtesy of: Debbie Sears/CBC)

Making a call to Rogers’ customer service can be risky business for customers, because it gives call center workers access to your account, where they can add services without your knowledge to help make their monthly sales targets.

Nicole McDonnell worked at a third-party call center in London, Ont., contracted with Rogers to provide customer service. She quit three months ago disturbed about what she saw. She told CBC News she witnessed agents making unauthorized changes to customer accounts, such as adding lucrative cellphone activation charges without the knowledge of the customer.

“The things that go on behind closed doors would leave you speechless,” she writes.

Debbie Sears echoed McDonnell. Taking calls from her home office in Kingston, N.S. through a subcontractor, Sears was trained to do one thing above all else: sell.

“We were constantly being threatened that we would be fired if we did not upsell — add a home line or a cellphone to the account,” she says. “It was a pressure cooker. They expected you to sell on every call. And you were told time and again, ‘Never take no for an answer. Push, push, push!'”

Sears said she was trained to push phone protection plans for cellphones for $12 a month, but was told not to mention a replacement fee of up to $200 applied if a customer ever made a claim. Other times, she claims, managers would approve cellphone sales even when a credit check suggested a customer was opening a fraudulent account or had very poor credit.

“I have a hard time selling something that’s useless to them [customers],” says Sears. “I told them right from the start, and they said, ‘Oh well, you’ll get used to it.'”

Apparently not. Sears said she began having panic attacks before her shift would begin and her blood pressure “went through the roof.”

Like other Rogers employees that don’t make their sales targets, she was eventually terminated.

“My doctor was very worried I’d have a stroke,” she says. “When I got laid off [for not selling], they did me a favor.”

Former Rogers Manager: ‘My job was to manage out the low performers — witch-hunt those people. Grown men would be crying.’

One former Rogers manager reached out to Go Public to share how he was trained to put pressure on workers in the Ottawa call center.

The pressure for sales reached a new level of intensity in 2015 when Rogers issued a memo directing senior leadership to light a fire under call center workers to get them to sell more services. At least two-thirds of all call center workers were placed on a “performance improvement plan” that most employees understood was the kiss of death to their employment in the near future. The message was perfectly clear – sell more or risk being terminated.

CBC:

“Every day we’d have a meeting about sales targets,” he says. “A big part of my job was to manage out the low performers. Witch-hunting those people.”

On the other hand, he says, top sellers were protected — even if they behaved unethically.

“Senior leadership would often issue directives to the team managers to protect their top-level performers by turning a blind eye,” he says. “Protect the tops.”

Once an employee found themselves assigned to the “performance improvement plan,” managers knew most would have to go, and they had no patience for anything except a radical turnaround. If the employee still struggled making sales, their future was bleak. The ex-manager told CBC News he would squeeze every minute out of their last day at the company, tapping them on the shoulder five minutes before the end of their shift to put them in a private room, and then fire them.

“Grown men would be crying, desperate because they couldn’t sell enough,” he says. “But sales was everything.”

When it got too much for even him and he began questioning Rogers’ way of doing business, he was fired too.

‘Shocking and appalling’

Vancouver labor lawyer Lia Moody says she’s been following the Rogers employees’ allegations, and finds them “shocking and appalling.”

Moody told the CBC Rogers’ apparent business practices ‘contravenes what Canadians consider their ethics and values.”

“I think it’s important that people are speaking out. Public shaming,” she says, “is the only way a company will make changes.”

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