Ottawa is ordering Canada’s telecom regulator to conduct a public probe into high-pressure sales tactics. The decision comes in response to reports of aggressive practices by internet, television and wireless providers.
The federal government said on Thursday it has directed the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to investigate and report on sales practices by the country’s biggest telecom operators. A series of recent reports by the CBC has raised questions about misleading advertising and inappropriate upselling.
The government’s move comes after the CRTC itself in February rejected a call for a public inquiry into the issue, stating at the time that “Canadians already have a variety of options available to them to seek redress depending on the nature of the issue.”
“This is an issue that Canadians have raised, we’ve heard them loud and clear and we’re taking action,” Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), said in an interview on Thursday. “What I want to see is a clear set of recommendations and a path forward.”
The CRTC must report back on potential solutions by Feb. 28, 2019, and the government has also directed the Competition Bureau to assist the commission in its inquiry.
Mr. Bains said he and his department have heard hundreds of complaints regarding sales practices and the government needs to act even though the CRTC said such an inquiry was not needed.
“I think they [the CRTC] need to respond to Canadians. This is an important issue to Canadians,” he said. “We want them to address those consumers’ concerns.”
A statement from ISED on Thursday referenced the recent media coverage of telecom sales practices and noted that “more than 900 Canadians, including over 200 current and former employees of major telecom carriers, contacted the CBC with accounts corroborating or expanding on the CBC’s initial reports about illegitimate telecom sales practices.”
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) asked the CRTC to launch an inquiry in January, but the commission declined, saying Canadians can already complain to an industry ombudsman – the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services. The CRTC also said the Competition Act covers false or misleading advertising and consumers could contact the Competition Bureau to complain.
PIAC said the CRTC was throwing “consumers to telco sales dogs” by not taking action.
“Sending Canadians to these bodies to try to extract themselves from poor deals after the fact instead of proactively investigating them and restoring the public trust in the market is a major abdication of responsibility by the CRTC,” John Lawford, executive director and general counsel at PIAC, said at the time.
“We understand that there are growing concerns about this issue,” CRTC spokeswoman Patricia Valladao said on Thursday after the government announcement. “We will announce next steps in due course.”
CBC’s initial coverage focused on allegations about BCE Inc. sales representatives facing pressure to sell vulnerable people – such as seniors and persons with disabilities – products they do not need. Follow up stories included similar complaints about Rogers Communications Inc.
“We’re happy to talk with the government about customer service,” BCE spokesman Marc Choma said, adding that the company’s success depends on delivering good customer experience.
Rogers spokeswoman Samantha Grant similarly said Rogers strives to provide good service and “will participate and share how we work to be clear, simple and fair with our customers every time they contact us.”
Telus Corp. has long prided itself on offering industry-leading customer service Johanne Senécal, senior vice-president of government and regulatory affairs, said in a statement. “Our approach is unique amongst our competitors and it’s important to note that Telus was not included in the critical coverage about the industry,” she said, adding the company will “participate constructively” in the review.