The little-known agency for complaints with telecommunications providers finally has a full-time boss, and he knows a thing or two about customer disputes.
Howard Maker, 49, has been named the head of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, an agency set up a year ago by the industry to deal with consumers' gripes with the likes of Bell Canada Inc., Rogers Communications Inc., and Telus Corp.
Maker, a lawyer by training, served as the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments, a similar industry-run and industry-funded complaints agency, for seven years starting in 1999. He has also worked in legal and regulatory matters for the Law Society of Upper Canada and the College of Surgeons and Physicians, specializing in complaints and disciplinary issues.
Maker was appointed by the CCTS's board of directors on Aug. 5 and will replace outgoing interim commissioner David McKendry, who took the job part-time when the agency was set up in July, 2007. McKendry's last day will be Sept. 13.
In its first year of operations, the CCTS fielded more than 5,000 inquiries and accepted almost 2,000 as matters for investigation. Few Canadians know about the agency, however, because much of the past year has been spent hammering out its structure and organization. Getting the agency up and running at full steam will be Maker's priority.
"We are now trying to take an organization that was run in that way and turn it into a full-fledged consumer agency with a view to turning this into a best-in-class resolution service," he told CBCNews.ca.
The CCTS was formed last year after an order from then-minister of industry Maxime Bernier, who was following the recommendations of the Liberal-appointed Telecommunications Review Panel. In light of the government's move toward deregulation, Bernier told the industry to set up an agency to handle disputes over services that weren't under the purview of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, including cellphones, internet access and long distance calling.
The CRTC, which was given ultimate oversight of the CCTS, later said it would require all telecommunications service providers with annual revenue exceeding $10 million to join. Of the qualifying firms, only Shaw Communications, Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc. and Globalive Communications Inc. — soon to be Canada's fourth big cellphone provider — have yet to join.
The agency's board of directors now faces the creation of an overdue publicity campaign as its main task. The CCTS had to delay the creation of a communications strategy when the CRTC earlier this year ordered the expansion of its board from five to seven members. The board is comprised of three directors from service providers and four independents, including chair Mary Gusella, who is the former head of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Reports from consumers who have used the CCTS, as well as advocacy groups representing customers, on the agency's efficacy over its first year have been mixed.
"If you can get them to accept your complaint, it's great," John Lawford, a lawyer for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, recently told CBCNews.ca.
Maker says the agency's staff of 10 is likely to expand after its next budget is tabled, something the board is in the process of doing.
The CCTS has also been criticized as not being truly independent, since it is funded by contributions from service providers. For Maker, the criticism is one that he also faced in banking services.
"Organizations like this will always be subject to criticism, some of it is fair," he says. "There is a bit of a taint, if you will, from that, but at the end of the day the governance structure of the organization is in place to make sure it's independent …People will have to make their own determination but the proof will be in the pudding."