Complaints about telecom service in Canada continue to increase, according to the Annual Report of Canada’s Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services.
The Commissioner’s office received over 14,036 complaints from telecom customers in 2012-13, up from 10,678 in 2011-12 and 7,732 in 2010-11.
The numbers seems to fly in the face of wireless developments here in the past year, including major statements by the government about the need for consumer choice and transparency in the industry; the development of a national telecom Code of Conduct (due to come into effect next month); an increase in citizen petitions and protests about telecom services and regulations, if not an increasing awareness of customer rights and responsibilities.
The government has made several promises to secure greater telecom choice and lower prices for Canadians, in part in response to market pressures and citizen calls for a new set of customer-friendly rules about wireless services – cutting out three-year contracts, loosening up the process of switching to a new provider, and imposing caps on data roaming fees.
Nevertheless, complaints increased 31 per cent last year, and most of them (60.4%) were about wireless service; almost 20 per cent of the complaints received were about Internet service.
It’s no surprise to some: the market is still dominated by three major players, a fact that many say reduces competition, innovation and market fairness. The country’s three largest telephone and cable conglomerates control more than 90 per cent of the wireless market and more than 80 per cent of the available wireless spectrum.
The big three – Bell, Rogers and TELUS – also generated more than 60 per cent of the complaints received: that’s three out of some 240 providers accounting for nearly two-thirds of all complaints.
Some 4,000 complaints were about service by Bell; Rogers received almost as many and both companies were way up in terms of the percentage increase in complaints year over year.
Among the Big Three, only TELUS saw a decline in the number of complaints received last year, the second consecutive year the CCTS has reported a decrease in complaints about that company. TELUS complaints represent just 6.4 per cent, or 883, of the 13,692 complaints received by the CCTS.
“Although we still have more work to do in advancing our customers first priority, our approach is clearly setting us apart from other providers,” company president Darren Entwistle said in a statement.
Over the past year, the company eliminated certain activation and renewal fees, launched new plans with unlimited nationwide calling and shared data, and reduced some roaming rates by more than half.
While several wireless and broadband providers have adjusted their fees, plans and billing structures in the past several months, CCTS still handled 14,036 customer complaints in 2012-2013. “We continue to see an increase in the number of complaints about telecommunications services, with wireless services topping the list,” explained CCTS Commissioner Howard Maker.
Wireless roaming issues increased by over 240% compared to 2011-2012. Consumer concerns telecommunications providers referring their accounts to collection agencies increased by almost 165%.
“Customers who’ve had their accounts inappropriately referred to a collection agency face very real consequences, potentially impacting them in many ways,” Maker noted.
Maker says CCTS has been successful in limiting, mediating or reducing the negative impact on consumer, saying proudly that more than 90% of the complaints it received were eventually and successfully resolved, with some 70% of complaints wrapped up within 40 days
“The high rate of resolutions tells me that both consumers and service providers view our process as fair and rigorous, and our approach as unbiased,” said Maker.
Although complaints have increased, Maker nevertheless feels the industry is listening. “For a number of years we have asked the wireless industry to more proactively address customer problems with premium text messages,” he cited as one example. “We are very pleased to see a 98% decrease in the number of times this issue was raised with CCTS by consumers.”
But the CCTS Report urges the industry to take even greater steps to instill consumer confidence in the metering and billing of data, roaming and bandwidth charges.
The Commission also urges consumers to take more responsibility when purchasing telecom services: consumers need to understand the contract before signing it to reduce hassle, confusion and complaints.
submitted by Lee Rickwood