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Many complaints came from consumers who didn't know how much data they were using and how much they could use under their plan. (Canadian Press)

Complaints from Canadians about their wireless and home-phone services more than doubled in 2010-11, mostly involving wireless problems.

The commissioner for complaints to telecommunications services says complaints jumped by 114 per cent in 2010-11 over the previous year to 8,007. The agency is an independent, industry-financed body established by the federal government in 2007 to resolve consumer complaints against telecom companies.

The CCTS said most of the 8,007 complaints it fielded this year were about wireless services, and almost all of these were about billing errors or contract disputes.

It suggested that much of the increase in the number of complaints is due to growing public awareness of the agency. It said the numbers are likely to increase as awareness of the complain process grows. As well, a recent Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission decision expanded the agency's mandate to cover all telecom service providers.

Data usage complaints

In its annual report, the agency said charges for data usage produce a lot of complaints from consumers who don't know the limits of their plans or have no idea how much data they use. The report urged the industry to take steps to increase consumer confidence in data measurements.

It also suggested consumers needed to monitor usage more effectively: "This way, even customers who did not understand what a megabyte or gigabyte represents might have ensured that they did not exceed their data usage allowance.

Many customers don't fully understand how their devices use data, it said.

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"For example, in some of our investigations, we determined that a substantial amount of the customers' data usage was caused by applications working in the background, with the customer having no idea that these applications were regularly conducting operations that consumed significant amounts of data."

The report said contracts also cause problems, with many complaints about early-termination charges. But the agency can only check the contract to make sure the charges are clearly detailed.

"As much as customers must be diligent in reviewing the terms of their contract before committing, service provider contracts must be clearly understandable," said Howard Maker, the complaints commissioner.

Of all complaints listed in the report, the companies complained about were led by:

  • Bell — 29.3%.
  • Telus — 17.3%.
  • Rogers — 16.9%.
  • Fido — 8.2%.

The agency can save people money in some instances. In one anonymous case study included in the report, a business had its phone system breached by hackers who ran up $20,000 in long-distance calls.

In investigating, the agency found that the terms of service for the business phone didn't clearly lay out the customer's liability in such a case. The charges were eventually waived.

The agency looks at complaints about most telecom services, from home phones to internet services, wireless services, long-distance service and even such things as pre-paid calling cards.

With files from The Canadian Press