/CRTC hears from telecom customers as sales practice hearings begin

CRTC hears from telecom customers as sales practice hearings begin

Ottawa resident Tony Wacheski says he signed up for bundled internet, television and home phone services from BCE Inc. in winter 2016, enticed by the promise of a three-year price guarantee of $114.85 per month.

Yet Bell increased the price several times in the first two years of the contract despite multiple confirmations from a “very persistent” sales representative who assured him the rate would not change, Wacheski told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Monday, the first day of its public hearing into whether telecommunications providers use misleading or aggressive sales practices.

Wacheski told the hearing he spent hours on the phone negotiating various discounts, but said Bell refused to honour the initial offer even after he filed a complaint with the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS). He was told Bell’s system had no record of the original deal and that the written contract allowed for price increases to help pay for network upgrades as overall demand increases.

“They shouldn’t be able to lie,” Wacheski said.

His complaint — that a price agreed to on the phone didn’t match what ends up on the bill or contract paperwork — emerged as a top issue among consumers who participated in the hearing in Gatineau, where the full slate of CRTC commissioners will consider additional rules to protect telecom customers at the request of the federal government.

In his opening comments, CRTC chairman Ian Scott said the commissioners are concerned by public opinion research and some of the retail sales practices reported in the public process.

“When one in four Canadians have reported experiencing aggressive or misleading sales practices within the last year, it would appear that consumers’ interests may not be being respected,” Scott said.

“If at the end of this proceeding, the record were to show that the misleading and aggressive practices are common, it would be a serious concern for us.”

In advance of the hearing, the CCTS sampled 441 complaints to identify sources of customer frustration. More than half (53 per cent) of the complaints reported a mismatch between expectations at the point of sale and subsequent experiences, the CCTS found. In 41 per cent of the complaints, consumers claimed they weren’t told their contracts include a clause that allows for unilateral price or service changes.

“It is fair to say that customers generally don’t like these kinds of surprises, and that they want some level of predictability in what they pay, and what they receive,” the CCTS submitted.

The CCTS didn’t take a position on whether more rules are needed, but agreed that there is an advantage to having standardized, simple rules.

Canada’s major telecom providers have argued that only a tiny fraction of calls result in complaints. Bell and Rogers alone received a combined 114 million customer calls in the past year — only 0.05 per cent of Bell’s calls were escalated due to complaints about sales, while for Rogers that fraction was an even smaller 0.004 per cent.

The hearing continues Tuesday. Telecom service providers will present on Thursday and Friday. The CRTC must report its recommendations to the government by Feb. 28, 2019.