Ottawa or­ders CRTC to probe high­pres­sure tac­tics by in­ter­net, TV and wire­less providers


Ottawa is or­der­ing Canada’s tele­com reg­u­la­tor to con­duct a pub­lic probe into high-pres­sure sales tac­tics. The de­ci­sion comes in re­sponse to re­ports of ag­gres­sive prac­tices by in­ter­net, tele­vi­sion and wire­less providers.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment said on Thursday it has di­rected the Cana­dian Ra­dio-tele­vi­sion and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion (CRTC) to in­ves­ti­gate and re­port on sales prac­tices by the coun­try’s big­gest tele­com op­er­a­tors. A se­ries of re­cent re­ports by the CBC has raised ques­tions about mis­lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing and in­ap­pro­pri­ate up­selling.

The gov­ern­ment’s move comes af­ter the CRTC it­self in Fe­bru­ary re­jected a call for a pub­lic in­quiry into the is­sue, stat­ing at the time that “Cana­di­ans al­ready have a va­ri­ety of op­tions avail­able to them to seek re­dress de­pend­ing on the nature of the is­sue.”

“This is an is­sue that Cana­di­ans have raised, we’ve heard them loud and clear and we’re tak­ing ac­tion,” Navdeep Bains, Min­is­ter of In­no­va­tion, Science and Eco­nomic Development (ISED), said in an in­ter­view on Thursday. “What I want to see is a clear set of rec­om­men­da­tions and a path for­ward.”

The CRTC must re­port back on po­ten­tial so­lu­tions by Feb. 28, 2019, and the gov­ern­ment has also di­rected the Com­pe­ti­tion Bureau to as­sist the CRTC in its in­quiry.

Mr. Bains said he and his depart­ment have heard hun­dreds of com­plaints re­gard­ing sales prac­tices and the gov­ern­ment needs to act even though the CRTC said such an in­quiry was not needed.

“I think they [the CRTC] need to re­spond to Cana­di­ans. This is an im­por­tant is­sue to Cana­di­ans,” he said. “We want them to ad­dress those con­sumers’ con­cerns.”

A state­ment from ISED on Thursday ref­er­enced the re­cent cov­er­age of tele­com sales prac­tices and noted that “more than 900 Cana­di­ans, in­clud­ing over 200 cur­rent and for­mer em­ploy­ees of ma­jor tele­com car­ri­ers, con­tacted the CBC with ac­counts cor­rob­o­rat­ing or ex­pand­ing on the CBC’s ini­tial re­ports about il­le­git­i­mate tele­com sales prac­tices.”

The Pub­lic In­ter­est Ad­vo­cacy Cen­tre (PIAC) asked the CRTC to launch an in­quiry in Jan­uary, but the com­mis­sion de­clined, say­ing Cana­di­ans can al­ready com­plain to an in­dus­try om­buds­man – the Com­mis­sioner for Com­plaints for Tele­com-Tele­vi­sion Ser­vices. The CRTC also said the Com­pe­ti­tion Act cov­ers false or mis­lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing and con­sumers could con­tact the Com­pe­ti­tion Bureau to com­plain.

“Send­ing Cana­di­ans to these bod­ies to try to ex­tract them­selves from poor deals af­ter the fact in­stead of proac­tively in­ves­ti­gat­ing them and restor­ing the pub­lic trust in the mar­ket is a ma­jor ab­di­ca­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity by the CRTC,” John Law­ford, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and gen­eral coun­sel at PIAC, said at the time.

“We un­der­stand that there are grow­ing con­cerns about this is­sue,” CRTC spokes­woman Pa­tri­cia Val­ladao said on Thursday af­ter the an­nounce­ment. “We will an­nounce next steps in due course.”

CBC’s ini­tial cov­er­age fo­cused on al­le­ga­tions about BCE Inc. sales rep­re­sen­ta­tives fac­ing pres­sure to sell vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple – such as se­niors and per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties – prod­ucts they do not need. Fol­low-up sto­ries in­cluded sim­i­lar com­plaints about Rogers Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Inc.

“We’re happy to talk with the gov­ern­ment about cus­tomer ser­vice,” BCE spokesman Marc Choma said, adding that the com­pany’s suc­cess de­pends on de­liv­er­ing good cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence.

Rogers spokes­woman Sa­man­tha Grant sim­i­larly said Rogers strives to pro­vide good ser­vice and “will par­tic­i­pate and share how we work to be clear, sim­ple and fair with our cus­tomers ev­ery time they con­tact us.”

Telus Corp. has long prided it­self on of­fer­ing in­dus­try-lead­ing cus­tomer ser­vice Jo­hanne Sené­cal, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment and reg­u­la­tory af­fairs, said in a state­ment. “Our ap­proach is unique amongst our com­peti­tors and it’s im­por­tant to note that Telus was not in­cluded in the crit­i­cal cov­er­age about the in­dus­try,” she said, adding the com­pany will “par­tic­i­pate con­struc­tively” in the re­view.

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