On February 27, 2020, ACT went to Gatineau to report their findings to the CRTC hearings on Cell Phone affordability for Canadians. After writing two policy reports on cell phone affordability for seniors earlier in the year (May and October 2019), Dr. Kim Sawchuk, Dr. Catherine Middleton, and Constance Lafontaine went before the CRTC to present and discuss their findings and suggestions.
In the opening statements Sawchuk and Lafontaine made it clear that the CRTC needed to focus on the voices of Canadians, specifically older adults stating that, “We want to share what those Senior Citizens have to say to you, to all of us, as their words indicate the gravity of the current situation”. This focus was seen through the three issues around affordability that the ACT team discussed. First, how the high costs of the market are pricing older adults out. Second, how the impact of the growing necessity to own a phone is forcing older adults to make impossible financial life choices. And Finally, how the current offerings are subpar for the needs of Canadian older adults.
“You cannot not have a bank account, you cannot not have a cellphone, it’s a complex industry, but it’s not an optional industry to live right now […] it’s a forced digitization of older adults with the flipside being a forced exclusion”
The ACT team wanted to make it clear to the CRTC that this “market” they are trying to help is comprised of consumers not just numbers, stating that these are, “living breathing people in all of their diversity, they are citizens, grandmothers, colleagues, neighbours who all need access to partake in society”. They emphasized the need to be digital in our current age. Re-articulating their point throughout the question period, such as when Commissioner McDonald asked about how other e-services potentially create hesitancy for seniors, stating, “You cannot not have a bank account, you cannot not have a cellphone, it’s a complex industry, but it’s not an optional industry to live right now […] it’s a forced digitization of older adults with the flipside being a forced exclusion”.
Commissioner Laizner fielded the majority of questions to the ACT team, showing interest in any specific suggestions they had while also attempting to understand how seniors are currently engaging with the market. Middleton helped clarify some of ACT’s suggestions referencing the need for older adults to be made aware of more affordable options, a practice taken from the work done by ofcom. Lafontaine helped provide some clarity, discussing the technostress that many older adults face, specifically highlighting overage fees as a point of anxiety for many older adults.
A key point that came up in discussion was the need to raise awareness, and equip all Canadians with the literacy skills needed to find options and cheaper plans. They informed the CRTC of the frustration that navigating these digital spaces cause for older Canadians, however by not engaging older adults quickly become excluded from knowledge or resources.
“It is not enough! Lowering prices that are already too high does not create affordability.”
ACT made it clear that the commission needed to address affordability for seniors. For instance, in highlighting how Canadian seniors are calling for aid even after the minor price drops that recently occured, Sawchuk stated how, “It is not enough! Lowering prices that are already too high does not create affordability”. Access is becoming a social issue, and older adults are not getting plans that match their needs and give them the access they require. Critically, Lafontaine mentioned the normalization of our current high prices, pointing out how some of the cheaper flanker brands are being ignored because older adults struggle to trust them or are hesitant that they will provide quality service.
ACT wanted to make it clear that the CRTC needed to address affordability in Canada. As Sawchuk stated, “we are counting on you (the CRTC) to do something” so “In Conclusion, Dear CRTC, Dear Commissioners, HELP.”