The number of complaints filed against Canadian telecom companies soared in the past year, according to the private-sector body whose job it is to resolve those complaints.
The Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS) says it accepted 14,272 complaints from telecom and TV customers in the 2017-2018 period, up 57 per cent from the year before.
Of 30,734 “issues” identified with Canadian telecoms by the CCTS, the largest share — 12,757 — had to do with wireless services. Internet services accounted for another 8,987 issues. Wireless issues were up 49 per cent in a year, while internet issues jumped 56 per cent.
The CCTS investigates when a complaint “raise(s) questions about whether a service provider has complied with a code of conduct.” Of 3,539 alleged breaches of the federally-mandated wireless code of conduct, the commission investigated 367 and confirmed 111 violations.
Of those, 44 breaches were at Rogers Wireless, accounting for 39.6 per cent of all confirmed breaches. Bell Canada was linked to 23 breaches, or 20.7 per cent.
Canada’s telecom regulator, the CRTC, implemented a wireless code of conduct in 2013, in reaction to consumers’ dissatisfaction with many aspects of the wireless industry. Among other things, it requires that wireless bills be clear and legible; implements a cap on data overage charges and roaming charges; and sets limits on early cancellation charges.
“Rogers … showed a 76 per cent increase in the number of confirmed breaches over last year, when it also had the highest percentage of all Wireless Code breaches,” the CCTS report stated. “Bell Canada had almost 21 per cent of confirmed breaches, a 21.1 per cent increase over last year.”
Earlier on HuffPost: Canadians get the worst deal of anyone on wireless (story continues below)
Nearly 40 per cent of the code violations had to do with “bill management” — the part of the code that requires telecoms to cap roaming charges and data usage charges beyond a certain point. This section also forbids wireless providers from charging for services the customers did not explicitly agree to.
Another 25 per cent of complaints related to “contracts and related documents.” This part of the code requires wireless companies to clearly spell out all charges that may be incurred by a customer, such as cancellation fees. It also requires providers to show how much a customer paid for a device that was part of a service contract.
Rogers says part of the uptick in confirmed violations has to do with a delay in changing how it bills for data overages.
The CTRC made changes to the rules regarding data overages that came into force in 2017. Rogers requested and was granted an extension to March of this year to make those changes, which it said required complex changes to its IT system. But the company was informed that the CCTS would still interpret complaints against Rogers under the new rules.
A company spokesperson said those IT problems have now been resolved.
Bell leads in overall complaints
For telecom services as a whole, billing and contract disputes continued to be the two biggest issues identified in the CCTS report.
Bell Canada also continued to receive the biggest number of complaints, 4,734 or 33.2 per cent of the total — not counting 847 directed at its Virgin Mobile flanker brand or its Bell Aliant (229) and Bell MTS (135) regional affiliates.
“With the addition of TV complaints to our mandate in September of 2017, we did anticipate an increase(in complaints) — but not the 57 per cent that we received,” CCTS chair Howard Maker said in the report.
“And our data shows that it was not TV complaints that pushed up the numbers. Complaints about TV alone accounted for less than 5 per cent of all complaints accepted. The increase was in the same types of issues that Canadians have complained about historically: sales transactions that go wrong, service that doesn’t work as expected, and billing problems.”
Similarly Rogers received the second-largest number of complaints, 1,449 or 10.2 per cent of the total, followed by Telus at No. 3 with 944 or 6.6 per cent of the total, not counting their flanker brands.
But relative newcomer Freedom Mobile placed fourth in the tally, after the number of complaints rose 185.3 per cent to 850.
Freedom’s corporate parent Shaw also saw complaints against it more than double, as did Videotron — Quebecor’s telecom division — Cogeco Connexion, Eastlink and TekSavvy, but the totals remained far behind the three national wireless carriers.
This story has been updated to include comment from Rogers Communications.
With files from The Canadian Press