CRTC publishes internet code of conduct aimed at ISPs

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has published an internet code of conduct meant to help Canadians better resolve disputes between them and internet service providers. 

Code comes into effect Jan. 31, 2020; intended to provide contract clarity

The CRTC says the internet code will help Canadians resolve disputes with their internet service provider. (Tim Wimborne/Reuters)

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has released an internet code of conduct meant to allow Canadians to benefit from easier-to-understand contracts, clearer information about prices, and protection from unexpected charges. 

The code will come into effect on Jan. 31, 2020, and will apply to Bell Canada, Rogers Communications, Telus, Cogeco, Eastlink, SaskTel, Vidéotron, Shaw Telecom, Xplornet and Northwestel. 

Administered by the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS), it will force ISPs to tell customers when they reach 75 per cent, 90 per cent and 100 per cent of their data-usage limit within a single monthly cycle. 

It will also let customers cancel a contract within 45 days without having to pay early cancellation fees, if the contract differs from the original offer. 

While the code provides guidelines for ISPs on how to serve their customers properly, the CCTS can resolve customer complaints if they believe ISPs aren't following the guidelines. Consumers can file complaints on the CCTS website

The CRTC previously implemented a wireless code of conduct in 2013 and a television service provider code in 2017. Chief executive Ian Scott said an internet code was a natural followup. 

The CCTS releases an annual report that includes data related to complaints received from Canadian telecom and TV customers, and the 2017-to-2018 report noted a 56-per-cent increase in internet complaints over the previous year. 

Ian Scott, chair and CEO of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said the code aims to provide Canadians with clear information on their rights as consumers. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"As we looked at the numbers both from the CCTS and our own internal numbers, it was clear that the number of complaints were going up," Scott said.

Late last year, the CRTC consulted with Canadian consumers and ISPs to see if the proposed internet code was needed, and in February Canadians were invited to share challenges they'd had with their ISPs.

Sales tactics

Scott said contract clarity was one of the biggest concerns they received from Canadians. 

Laura Tribe, executive director of consumer advocacy group OpenMedia, said while the code is a step in the right direction, it fails to address certain challenges customers commonly face. This includes misleading and aggressive sales tactics. 

The CRTC did an inquiry on these sales tactics, confirming earlier this year that Canadian telecommunication companies have used misleading sales tactics.

"There aren't a lot of remedies within the internet code that actually get at that," Tribe said.

"Fundamentally, if customers are being misled from the start, and if it's a systemic problem, what are the penalties for providers that are behaving badly?"

OpenMedia is a community-based organization that works to keep the internet accessible and affordable. 

Tribe also said that the challenge with filing a complaint with the CCTS is that many of the practices that are problematic for customers are hard to prove. 

"We're seeing customers who are complaining because someone came to their door and sold them a plan that they thought was one thing, and when they finally get their bill and their contract, it's something totally different," Tribe said. 

"It puts a lot of pressure on customers to provide the evidence to prove they've been wronged when a lot of that information is actually held by the telecom."

The code addresses the issue of clarity of offers and states that "a service provider must retain information demonstrating that all key contract terms were disclosed at the time of an offer."

It also says that "a service provider must provide this information to customers and the CCTS upon request at no charge.''