Business

Many Canadians with cellphone service complaints not aware of their rights

Most people don't know that they can turn to a consumer body that takes on unresolved telecom complaints, says a recent survey. The organization meant to handle the complaints says telecom providers aren't doing their part to promote it.

Most people don't know where to turn for unresolved telecom gripes, survey says

Dann Verner in Toronto says he doesn't think the telecom providers want you to know that you have recourse for unresolved telecom complaints. (Dann Verner)

Got a gripe about your phone or internet service that you just can't resolve with your provider?

Don't despair. You can take your complaint to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS). It's an independent consumer body that'll help you reach a resolution.

There's no charge — your provider foots the bill. All you have to do is fill out an online complaints form.

The problem is, it appears that most people don't even know that the organization exists.

There's also evidence that some telecom providers are failing to properly inform customers about the CCTS — even though they're obligated to do so.

"There may be some consumers out there who could have their problems resolved" if they only knew about the organization, says Jonathan Bishop with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa.

Instead, "they're walking away from the process, frustrated," he says.

Nobody knows your name

A recent CCTS-commissioned survey found that only 20 per cent of respondents had heard of the CCTS. And even among those who were able to identify the organization, some may not know what it actually does.

Among respondents who believed they had recourse for an unresolved telecom complaint, just two per cent said they would turn to the CCTS. Many more — 15 per cent — said they would take their beef to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

However, the CRTC does not handle wireless or internet service disputes unless they involve accessibility issues.

Telecoms are supposed to provide information about the CCTS on their website and on customers' phone bills. (Sherri Borden Colley/CBC)

So why don't more people know about the CCTS? It's not like it's new; the federal government created the industry-funded organization a decade ago. Soon, it will expand to also take on TV service complaints. 

The CCTS points the finger at telecom providers that aren't spreading the word.

The companies are supposed to inform Canadians about the organization on their website and four times a year on a customer's monthly bill. The telecoms must also remind customers about the CCTS once their complaint escalates to a certain level within the company.

In 2015, the organization tried to survey 133 providers to see if they were fulfilling their promotional obligations. Only 47 of them responded.  

Of those that did, the CCTS "found a significant degree of non-compliance, a matter that concerns us a great deal," said spokeswoman Josée Thibault in an email to CBC News.

It doesn't appear things have improved. According to its most recent survey of Canadians, among the 20 per cent of respondents who had heard of the CCTS, just four per cent said they had learned about it through their service provider.

Environics Research conducted the survey, polling 2,011 adult Canadians during February and March, 2016.

Where does it mention CCTS?

CBC News reached out to the big three wireless providers, Bell, Rogers and Telus on the issue.

All three said they support the CCTS and adhere to its rules, including providing details on customer bills and their website.

We scoped out the sites. All had information about the organization but none provided obvious links to it on their home page.

Cellphone customer Dann Verner has had plans with three different telecoms over the years. He doesn't recall ever seeing any information about the CCTS on a provider's website or on his bills.

"If it's on the bills, it's got to be awful small because I've never noticed it. And when it comes to bills, I look them all over," says Verner, who lives in Toronto.

In 2014, Verner did learn about the CCTS — from a friend. At the time he was having a dispute with Telus over a requirement to buy a new phone.

After doing some research about CCTS, Verner thought to himself, "Geez, this is a good organization. Too bad nobody probably knows this exists."

The CCTS says it plans to work more proactively with service providers to make sure they follow the rules. (The Canadian Press)

He then filed a complaint with the CCTS and, weeks later, Telus resolved the issue. Verner said he thinks Telus did it because he turned to the organization.

Telus told CBC News that it had never considered his case closed and had always been working on a solution, regardless of the CCTS complaint.

CCTS urged to raise awareness

Verner said he doesn't think the telecoms want customers to know about the CCTS.

"It's not to their advantage to let us know because when they do mess up, they have to deal with it," he says.

Last year, the CRTC conducted a review of the organization and concluded that it needed to improve its efforts in letting Canadians know that it exists.

The CCTS says it's currently taking steps to do so. They include working "more proactively with service providers to bring them into compliance," says Thibault.

"That sounds good," says PIAC's Bishop, noting that the CRTC's review recommendations came out about 10 months ago. "We'd like to see some evidence soon."

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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