Canadian cellphone firms get failing grade

Canada's cellphone companies have all earned an F, the lowest possible rating by the Better Business Bureau.

Better Business Bureau logs 2,500 complaints in 36 months

Canada's cellphone companies have each earned an F — the lowest possible rating by the Better Business Bureau.

"Complaints ranged from things involving their contracts, dissatisfaction with the customer service or coverage, and often people were a little bit confused about what the final bill was compared to the advertised cost," Mark Fernandes of the British Columbia bureau told CBC News.

Bell Mobility leads in the volume of complaints made to the Better Business Bureau by cellphone users across the country, with 1,020 being amassed since the start of 2009.

During the same period, Telus Mobility logged 751 complaints and Rogers Mobile had 685.

Even Canada's newest entry to the cellphone market, Wind Mobile, earned an F based on a handful of complaints lodged since it made its debut.

"The company does have a low rating right now, but we have to wait and see," said Fernandes, suggesting Wind's low rating could be linked to confusion that can occur in a company start-up.

"It can take a little while for the customer service aspect to really form itself and we'll see how that complaint pattern emerges with this company."

Fernandes believes the existing players are trying to clean up their acts. All three older companies have been working with the Better Business Bureau to resolve customer complaints.

"It's an ongoing thing where we're trying to work through and find a process," he said. "It's just the volume of complaints and I think the companies are trying to work with us in a lot of ways, but there definitely are challenges."

Cellphone marketplace 'a minefield'

But with recent advances in cellphone technology, the introduction of smartphones, no-contract offers and the ability to "unlock" phones to change service providers, the bureau suggests the cellphone business is a virtual minefield.

Fernandes says a favourite tactic of the phone companies is to offer a short-term deal on features that could become very expensive later on.

"Those advertised offers, like unlimited talking and unlimited internet, are really enticing but sometimes they can create bad habits," he said. "You overuse something and then later on you realize 'Oh, wow, I can't stop myself from using the internet,' and then you're having a significantly higher cellphone bills."

Fernandes said consumers should figure out what they want and need in a phone before they go shopping. He also urges caution about no-contract offers.

"A really popular marketing tactic, but what we often see is that if you're not locked into a fixed contract then the terms and conditions can change at any time."