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COURT ORDERS REFUNDS FOR UNSEEN BROADBAND GROWTH

Canada's top court has ordered telephone companies to give their customers rebates of between $4.70 and $19 from an unspent broadband expansion account.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled the federal telecommunications regulator has the right to tell Bell, Telus Corp. and MTS Allstream how they must spend money collected above their directed fee schedules.

The court rejected appeals by the carriers - who wanted to keep what remains of about $610 million to finance technological changes - and from consumer and anti-poverty advocacy groups who wanted all the money refunded.

The amount in question is $282 million dating back to 2006 when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved an expansion of broadband services to remote areas and accessibility improvements.

The Consumers Association of Canada and the National Anti-Poverty Organization said this spending was unfair as it charged phone customers more for something that was to benefit broadband Internet users.

Budget endorsement delays new election

Canada's minority Conservative government survived its first no-confidence test on Friday, averting the prospect of another federal election for now.

The government's budget motion was endorsed in a vote of 224-74 with the support of the New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois parties.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff had urged the opposition parties to join his campaign to defeat the government in a no-confidence vote.

New Democratic leader Jack Layton said his party will prop up the government at least long enough to pass legislation extending $1 billion in employment insurance benefits to long-term workers.

News in brief

-Canadians have been assured there is enough swine flu vaccine for everyone and it will be made available at no charge. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said part of the national strategy is to make the H1N1 flu vaccine available regardless of whether the user is on a priority list.

-Two Canadian soldiers were killed by improvised bombs in Afghanistan, raising Canada's death toll to 131. The latest victims were Pvt. Patrick Lormand, 21, and Pvt. Jonathan Couturier, 23, both of Quebec. Eleven other soldiers were injured in the explosion that killer Couturier.

-The national Super 7 lottery is being replaced with Lotto Max which is expected to feature higher jackpots more frequently. The first max draw will be Friday with a $9.4 million tax-free, cash jackpot. If it's not won, it will continue advancing to a maximum of $47 million with numerous $1 million prizes if the pool exceeds the max.

Facts and figures

The Canadian dollar continues its advance, reaching 93.48 cents U.S. on Friday while the U.S. greenback returned $1.0697 Canadian, before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada interest rate is unchanged at 0.25 percent and the prime lending rate is 2.25 percent.

Stock markets are higher, with Toronto's composite index at 11,532 points and the TSX Venture index 1,276 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 6, 17, 36, 41, 42, 49; bonus 1. (Sept. 12) 3, 12, 13, 36, 46, 48; bonus 9. Super 7: (Sept. 11) 14, 19, 23, 28, 32, 40, 46; bonus 17.

Regional briefs

-A report by the TD Bank says combining the federal Goods and Services Tax with provincial sales taxes in Ontario and British Columbia will result in an immediate and permanent increase in costs for consumers. The provinces plan to "harmonize" the taxes to assist businesses. Economists suggest that combining the two taxes will save businesses about $6 billion.

-Prince Edward Island bar owners had a double whammy in the past week as the province outlawed smoking rooms and removed many of their video lottery terminals. The government is consolidating terminals by taking them from 40 bars as part of the responsible gaming strategy and implemented its Smoke-free Places Act.

-Sears Canada has hung up on its call centers in Regina, Saskatchewan and Belleville, Ontario, resulting in the loss of 480 jobs. The workers, who handled catalog orders from across Canada, said their jobs are being transferred to a call center in the Philippines to cut costs.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com.

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