Incorrect charges and nondisclosure of contract terms remain the most common complaints against Canada’s telecom companies, according to a semi-annual report by the industry’s complaint commissioner.
“Disclosure issues continue to be problematic,” said Howard Maker, head of the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) in a summary of the report for the six months ended Jan. 31. “Our identification of a ‘mismatch’ between what many customers think they are buying and what they are getting is the focus of the CRTC’s report.”
In February, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) confirmed that the telecom industry uses unacceptable sales practices that mislead consumers and harm vulnerable members of the public.
The CRTC, the federal agency that has authorized the CCTS mandate, says it plans to follow up with measures to address the problems but most of them will require additional regulatory proceedings.
Complaints from wireless, internet and TV customers continued to rise, increasing 44 per cent year over year in the latest report, released Tuesday, down from a 73 per cent increase in the year earlier period. Maker said the continued increase reflects factors including greater public awareness of the CCTS and the inclusion of television complaints in the commission’s mandate.
The report also saw complaints in areas that have been contentious for nearly a decade, even with introduction of a Wireless Code of Conduct for providers meant to better protect consumers that came into effect in December 2017.
In the latest period, Canadians complained most often about their wireless service, followed in order by internet, TV and local phone.
The most frequently raised concerns were over incorrect charges and nondisclosure (often resulting in a mismatch between what the customer was expecting and what the provider actually delivered), together representing 29 per cent of all issues raised. The mid-year report shows 9,831 complaints accepted, with 8,877 resolved.
Maker in an interview said it’s surprising that disclosure issues should remain among the top complaint categories given the range of prescriptive measures for wireless contracts laid out in the Wireless Code. He noted that the CRTC is considering further actions to better protect consumers such as requiring service providers to provide pre-sales quotes.
The CCTS also reports a 42 per cent increase in the number of Wireless Code breaches during the period, with the most common violation involving the failure by a service provider to give the required notice before disconnecting service.
The top five most-complained about service providers — Bell, Rogers, Cogeco, TELUS and Freedom Mobile — accounted for more than 60 per cent of all complaints the CCTS accepted in the period. Complaints about Montreal-based Cogeco rose to 790 from 120, making it the third most complained about service provider after a consolidation of technical systems during the period frustrated customers.
Freedom Mobile, the fourth largest mobile network operator, joined the top five most-complained-about list and also recorded the most breaches of the Wireless Code, although Maker noted that one customer accounted for numerous breaches. “It’s not really indicative of a trend per se.”
“We are digging into the circumstances of the 21 breaches of the Wireless Code cited by the CCTS,” said Chethan Lakshman, external affairs vice president at Freedom parent Shaw Communications.
“We understand those breaches are the result of six customers — including one customer who accounted for 14 breaches — who were disappointed with our service and we will do everything we can to learn from these situations.”
He added that the company is investing hundreds of millions to expand and improve its network.
“The challenge posed by increasing complaint volumes required us to adapt in order to meet the needs of Canadians and service providers,” Maker added. “The report shows that we handled 68 per cent more complaints than in the same period last year, demonstrating that we have responded promptly and effectively.”
Michael Lewis is a Toronto-based reporter covering business. Follow him on Twitter: @MLewisStar