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Telecom players have a beef with complaints agency Add to ...

An agency set up by Canada's telecom regulator to deal with consumer complaints has become the subject of a few complaints itself.

The Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS), which was set up in 2007, is now undergoing a mandatory three-year review by the federal regulator.

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The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission created the agency to arbitrate between aggrieved consumers and their telecom service providers about Internet, telephone and wireless service. When consumers contact the CCTS, its gets in touch with the provider to negotiate a solution.

Large telecom companies, such as BCE Inc., think the agency should be abolished entirely or, as Rogers Communications Inc. and Quebecor Inc. argued, it should not have mandatory membership. They also suggest that market forces are making companies better at customer service and resolving complaints, making the agency redundant.

Consumer advocacy groups, however, say the CCTS should have its mandate increased, to include cable TV, for example; and that mandatory membership should extend beyond companies with revenue of more than $10-million to the dozens of smaller telecom companies scattered across the country.

In its submission to the CRTC, Bell Canada argues that the independent agency "duplicates" the customer complaint process at the customer.

"The CCTS is not necessary," Bell wrote. "High-quality customer service and complaints resolution is an important differentiator amongst competitors ... competition provides adequate consumer safeguards."

Critics point out that the number of people contacting the CCTS with concerns has more than doubled over the past year from the previous year, and the number of formal complaints looked at by the agency rose by more than 500 to 3,747. Many of the complaints involve wireless cellphone service and complicated bills.

The agency is financed in part through a levy on members' revenues, as well as through a charge to the companies for dealing with each complaint - a fee that rises if the complaint isn't handled promptly. The financial burden tends to fall on larger providers, which receive the vast majority of complaints because of their sheer size.

John Lawford, counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a citizens' advocacy group, said the work done by the CCTS would never be done by individual companies; the number of Canadian consumers who are not happy with their providers is evidence of that, he added.

He said the agency's scope should be expanded, noting that it doesn't handle complaints about cable TV or about a non-member company, or even complaints from home-phone customers in rural areas (high-cost areas where companies are required to provide service).

The review of the agency, in the form of a public hearing, begins on Nov. 29.

______

CARPING CALCULATIONS

43,609

Number of people who contacted the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services with complaints about telecom service in the past year.

3,747

Number of complaints that were pursued by the agency.

9,320

Number of complaints that fell outside its mandate (such as pricing, customer service, TV service, telemarketing, misleading advertising).

1,621

Number that were about companies that aren't part of CCTS.

80%

Portion of complaints that were about a contract dispute or billing error.

52%

Portion that were about wireless services.

Source: Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services

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