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Beware your hydro bill

Toronto Star - June 20, 2003
Editorial


Remember the firestorm of protest when Rogers Cablesystems used negative option billing to bamboozle customers into taking on new cable channels?

The deep thinkers at Queen's Park obviously don't. They've now approved this offensive practice for energy retailers in Ontario.

New provincial regulations allow retailers to automatically renew contracts unless consumers give written notice they want to cancel. That means customers could find their contracts for gas or hydro have been extended without their formal approval.

Worse, there's a worry that an unscrupulous hydro retailer could foist a price hike on an unsuspecting consumer even though the cost of electricity has been frozen.

"It's ripe for abuse," warns MPP Michael Bryant (L-St. Paul's).

So what, says Energy Minister John Baird. Okay by me, shrugs Consumer Minister Tim Hudak.

No wonder consumer groups are raising the alarm. Even the Ontario Energy Board warned homeowners this week to read gas and electric bills carefully for any nasty surprises, such as price hikes or new terms tacked on without their consent.

Here's a better idea — how about a law that protects homeowners instead of robbing them of choice?

That's exactly what negative option billing does. Imagine if your local grocery store adopted the practice. You'd be checking out of the store only to find your shopping cart filled with items you never wanted and yet are stuck paying for.

It's a bad idea for groceries, it's a rotten one for cable TV and it's no better for hydro or natural gas contracts. If some consumers want the convenience of having their contracts automatically renewed, that should be a choice they make, not one that's forced on them.


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