CRTC denies payphone price hike, launches consultation

In a sea of smartphones, old fashioned phone booths are increasingly hard to come by and Canada’s telecom regulator said Tuesday it is launching a public consultation on the role of payphones in the communications system.

In a decision released Tuesday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission also denied a request from Bell Canada and its regional affiliates to increase the price of a phone call at public payphones.

The CRTC blocked BCE Inc. owned Bell Canada, Bell Aliant and Telebec from raising local payphone rates up to $1 for cash calls and up to $2 for calls charged to plastic forms of payment.

Under a price cap regime phone companies can currently charge up to $0.50 for phone calls using cash and up to $1.00 for local non-cash calls.

The companies had asked for permission to increase rates to help recover costs related to upgrades needed to make payphones compatible with the new one-dollar coin the Royal Canadian Mint issued in 2012.

They also said the price hike would stave off plummeting revenues and reduce the pace at which payphones are removed from communities.

But after a public proceeding that concluded in January, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais was not convinced raising the rates would make enough of a difference.

“This trend is likely to continue regardless of the rate charged for payphone services and highlights the need to reassess the role of payphones,” Mr. Blais said in a statement Tuesday.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre intervened in the proceeding, arguing that higher prices would disproportionately affect low-income users least able to afford them.

The regulator is seeking general submissions on the role of payphones, due Oct. 22 and in the meantime it is asking for comments, due Aug. 13, on whether to ban phone companies from removing the last payphone in a community while the consultation is underway.

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