OTTAWA ORDERS PROBE INTO TELECOM PRACTICES,
‘WE ARE CONCERNED BY ALLEGATIONS OF CLEARLY INAPPROPRIATE SALES PRACTICES BY TELECOM CARRIERS’
Ottawa has ordered the federal telecom regulator to investigate Canada’s largest telecommunications companies for high-pressure sales tactics, ordering a public inquiry into the issue after a series of media reports revealed “misleading and aggressive” practices.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains announced Thursday that it directed the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission to investigate and report on sales practices and to come up with solutions to strengthen consumer protections.
Earlier this year, the CRTC refused a consumer group’s request to hold such an inquiry after a CBC investigation raised questions about sales practices at BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. In the February letter denying the request, CRTC chairman Ian Scott said Canadians could use “well-established and effective mechanisms to resolve issues with their communications services providers.”
But in a rare move, the federal government is stepping in to reverse that decision. In an interview, Bains said he’s taking action after hearing “loud and clear” from Canadians across the country about their experiences with high-pressure sales tactics.
“Like many Canadians, we are concerned by allegations of clearly inappropriate sales practices by telecom carriers,” Bains said in a statement.
“I have directed the CRTC to thoroughly investigate this matter. No Canadian should ever be misled or treated unfairly by a telecom corporation, especially those who are most vulnerable.”
While the government typically refrains from meddling in CRTC business, it did so twice in 2017. Bains nudged the CRTC to reconsider a decision that could open up mobile networks to wholesale access, but the CRTC surprised the industry when it didn’t budge from its original position. It was the first major decision under Scott, a former telecom executive whose leadership began last fall.
On Thursday, the CRTC acknowledged the government’s request and said it will announce next steps in due course.
“We understand that there are growing concerns about this issue,” spokeswoman Patricia Valladao said in an email.
The Order in Council demanded the CRTC deliver a report by Feb. 28. It stated that Canadians vulnerable due to age, disabilities or language barriers can be hurt most if telecom employees or third parties sell them unsuitable services or fail to provide critical information. Such tactics can lead to higher bills or cause “stress, confusion and frustration.”
It’s public knowledge that complaints about telecoms are on the rise, Bains said in the interview in which he stressed the government’s commitment to affordable telecommunications services.
The Commission for Complaints for TelecomTelevision Services reported an increase in complaints in its mid-year report released in April, and 900 people – including 200 current and former telecom employees – contacted the CBC with accounts of “illegitimate” sales practices.
The government also drew attention to two characteristics of Canada’s communications landscape: one, many services are bundled and two, it is highly concentrated.
About 10 million Canadians buy bundled services, according to the CRTC. Typically, and
providers offer deals for people who buy internet, television and landline services.
The top five ownership groups account for 83 per cent of revenue in the communications sector, according to the CRTC’s 2017 annual report on the industry. Those groups are Bell, Rogers, Telus Corp., Quebecor Inc. Shaw Communications Inc. and Corus Entertainment Inc. (The CRTC combines Shaw and Corus. They are separate entities, but both are controlled by the Shaw family.)
In emailed statements, the Big Three companies emphasized the importance of customer service.
“We’re happy to talk with the government about customer service. Bell’s success depends on delivering the best customer experience and we’re seeing consistent growth in both customer satisfaction and subscriber growth,” Bell spokesman Marc Choma wrote.
“We strive to deliver the best possible experience for our customers with products and services that best meet their needs and budget, and we will participate and share how we work to be clear, simple and fair with our customers every time they contact us,” Rogers spokeswoman Samantha Grant said.
Telus, which out receives fewer complaints than its top competitors, noted that it was not included in the critical coverage, according to a statement attributed to Johanne Senecal, senior vice-president of government and regulatory affairs.
“When it comes to sales, our performance indicator of customer satisfaction is simple: will the customer recommend TELUS products and services to their friends or family,” Senecal said.
Telus will also participate in the CRTC process, and said it’s optimistic the review will “elevate and standardize best practices.”
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the group that originally called for an inquiry, celebrated the minister’s announcement.
“The government has heard the groans of Canadian consumers who too often end up with a bad deal for their Internet, TV and phone services,” the centre’s executive director John Lawford said in a statement.
“We are pleased that the Minister has reversed the CRTC’s previous refusal to inquire into these shocking sales practices and we hope that public trust in this industry can be restored as a result.”
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains