Complaints about poor wireless, internet and TV service reached a record high this year as consumers expressed increasing frustration over issues such as billing and disconnection notice periods.
In its annual report released Thursday, the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) disclosed that the number of accepted complaints jumped 35 per cent during the 12 months ended July 31, to 19,287 — the largest volume in the organization’s history.
Most of the complaints related to billing surprises and non-disclosure of contract terms, issues that have made up the majority of complaints to the CCTS since its inception.
“It’s concerning that the numbers are going up,” said Howard Maker, head of the Commission of Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS).
He said that some telecom service providers may be testing the limits of the Wireless Code as they develop new product offerings in a dynamic communications services market. But he expressed surprise nevertheless that providers continue to run afoul of rules in areas such as disconnection, where notice requirements are explicitly detailed.
The report shows that customers complained most often about their wireless service, followed by internet, TV and landline phone. Bell, Rogers, Telus, Virgin, Freedom and Cogeco were the primary targets.
Montreal’s Bell Canada accounted for by far the largest number of complaints, responsible for 30 per cent of the total with 5,879 accepted complaints. Bell’s confirmed breaches of the Wireless Code doubled to 29 per cent on a wireless customer base of 9,834,380, as of the end of its third quarter.
Toronto-based Rogers Communications, which had just under 10.8 million wireless subscribers at the end of the first quarter, came in second with 1,833 complaints.
Both Bell and Rogers saw their share of overall complaints decline, with Bell dropping from a 33-per-cent share to 30 per cent, and Rogers dropping from 10 to 9 per cent.
The share for Vancouver-based Telus, however, increased by 1.5 per cent to 8 per cent, with the number of complaints jumping by 71 per cent to just over 1,600 — partly due to the company’s interpretation of the code regarding new contract terms when a customer changes wireless plans.
Overall, the CCTS saw a 42 per cent increase in the number of service provider violations of the Wireless Code, with the most common involving the failure to provide documentation to customers and to provide proper notice before disconnection of service.
Billing was again the predominant irritant for phone, internet and TV customers, with complaints typically arising after fees for monthly services were higher than expected, for example when a promised discount wasn’t honoured. Next common were complaints related to disclosure of information and a lack of clarity about service contracts, followed by service delivery and credit management issues. Just over 900 complaints came from small business customers.
Billing issues have increased by more than 144 per cent over the past five years to 20,000, with Bell accounting for more than 37 per cent, the report says. TV complaint issues were more than three times higher than in 2017-18 in part due to the fact that 2018-19 was the first full year of accepting TV complaints.
Maker said the overall increase in complaints can likely be partly attributed to consumers being more aware of their rights.
“Now that you have rules and minimum standards, customers are better informed,” he said, media coverage of telecom sales practices may have made more consumers aware that they can file a complaint online any time for free at ccts-cprst.ca.
“Record numbers of complaints, rapid industry change, and our own desire for continuous improvement have motivated us to focus on our dispute resolution process, and we’re looking at ways to improve our service to make it more efficient, effective and transparent,” Maker said.
The volume of complaints has been ratcheting up following a decline with introduction in 2013 of the Wireless Code, leading the CCTS to add regulatory personnel and refine its dispute resolution process. The CCTS accepted 14,272 complaints in 2017-18, a 57-per-cent annual increase over the 9,097 total in 2016-17, although issues resolved have also risen, to 91 per cent in the latest period.
On Jan. 31 the CCTS will begin to administer a fourth code, the Internet Code, which was issued by the CRTC earlier this year. The new code will apply to large internet service providers and is intended to make it easier for customers to understand service contracts, plan prices and promotions.
Wireless, TV and internet service complaints reach an all-time high
Below are the telecommunications companies that received the most complaints, ranked by the number of complaints received.
Bell Canada: 5,879 accepted complaints, 30.5 per cent of total
Rogers: 1,833; 9.5 per cent
Telus: 1,610; 8.3 per cent
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Virgin Mobile: 1,253; 6.5 per cent
Freedom Mobile: 1,147; 5.9 per cent
Cogeco Connexion: 1,039; 5.4 per cent
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