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A Bell store on Queen Street West in Toronto on March 25, 2020.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Canadians lodged fewer complaints with the federal telecom and television ombudsman over the past 12 months, but had more gripes about the quality of their home internet connections as the pandemic forced many to work from home.

The Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services fielded 15,868 complaints during the 12-month period that ended on July 31, 2020.

That’s down 19 per cent from the previous year, owing partly to a 35-per-cent drop in complaints about BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada and 69 per cent fewer relating to services offered by Cogeco Inc.

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The drop in complaints about Cogeco came as the Montreal-based cable company resolved issues it had faced integrating a new customer service computer system, which had overwhelmed their customer service lines for a period of time.

The CCTS aims to resolve customer complaints about wireless, internet, home-telephone and TV services. The Ottawa-based agency receives funding from the telecom industry but acts independently of it.

Although complaints were down over all, those related to the quality of home internet services rose between March and July, 2020, as Canadians shifted to working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers complained about intermittent or inadequate internet service more than 1,700 times over the 12-month period, up 12 per cent from a year ago.

CCTS commissioner Howard Maker called the uptick unsurprising in light of the massive surge in internet traffic that occurred as everything from workplaces to learning to entertainment moved online. But he added that in spite of the increased strain on the networks, the country did not experience major outages.

“It was entirely possible that there could have been significant internet problems,” Mr. Maker said in an interview. “We haven’t seen that.”

Tony Geheran, chief customer officer at Telus Corp., said investments that the company has made in its networks have proven to be critical in keeping the economy going and maintaining personal connections.

“This year, at a time when our customers relied upon our services more than ever before, we saw complaints about Telus decrease by 27.6 per cent year-over-year,” Mr. Geheran said in a statement.

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There was a disproportionate number of complaints about internet quality in rural areas, where customers typically pay more for slower, less reliable connections. The pandemic has exacerbated this digital divide.

“It still remains a challenge to get everybody connected,” Mr. Maker said.

While only 11 per cent of all issues raised with the CCTS were from rural Canadians, 21 per cent of internet quality complaints were made by those living outside of urban areas.

Over all, Bell received the most complaints at 3,815, while Rogers Communications Inc. received 1,781 and Telus had 1,166. Concerns about information not being fully disclosed were the most frequently cited problem, followed by billing issues.

Mirko Bibic, president and CEO of BCE and Bell Canada, said the drop in complaints came amid a public health crisis that has strained both employees and telecom networks.

“Championing customer experience is a strategic imperative for the Bell team and I’m proud that we continued to outperform in a competitive communications marketplace even as we faced the challenges of COVID-19,” Mr. Bibic said in a statement.

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