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People use electronic devices outside a coffee shop amid a nationwide Rogers outage, in Toronto, on July 8, 2022.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

The watchdog that handles grievances about telecommunications companies in Canada says complaints about phone, internet and television services were up 43 per cent halfway through its reporting year.

The report by the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS), which measured complaints from customers between Aug. 1, 2023, and Jan. 31, 2024, found an “alarming” rise in those related to overcharges on bills.

“We know complaint numbers fluctuate from year to year, from period to period,” CCTS commissioner and chief executive officer Howard Maker said.

“But a 43-per-cent increase is the kind of increase we don’t generally see and it is a cause for concern.”

Incorrect charges were the top issue, as customers complained more than 3,000 times about apparent inaccuracies related to their monthly plans.

Disclosure issues (2,633 complaints), credit or refund not received (1,942 complaints), quality of service (1,756 complaints), and repair issues and appointments (1,325 complaints) rounded out the top five categories of grievances.

Mr. Maker said the commission also frequently receives complaints about increased charges on consumers’ phone, internet or TV bills, noting “the cost of telecom services has been in the news a lot lately.”

The issue came to the forefront in January when some Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-B-T and Bell Canada customers reported receiving notifications that their bills were set to rise. That prompted the House of Commons’ industry committee to launch a study into the accessibility and affordability of wireless and broadband services.

While prices set by providers are outside the scope of the commission’s work, Mr. Maker said billing complaints, such as incorrect charges, “are very, very frequent.”

There were 1,077 complaints related to regular increases of monthly price plans and 913 complaints of changes to a contract in the commission’s latest report.

“They’re almost always at the top, or near the top, of the list of most complained-about issues,” he said.

“That’s often when the problem hits home, when you see it on the bill.”

Of the 10,663 complaints accepted by the commission over the six-month period, Rogers accounted for 26.4 per cent of the total – maintaining its position as the most complained-about service provider. With 2,820 complaints, Rogers saw a 117.9-per-cent increase in reports to the commission from its customers compared with the same period last year.

The top issues raised by Rogers’s customers were about incorrect charges, contract conflicts and credit or refunds not being received.

Mr. Maker noted the increase in complaints about Rogers can’t be explained by the influx of subscribers it got when the company completed its purchase last year of Shaw Communications Inc., which is still measured separately in the report.

“This is kind of an unprecedented increase and that’s the story our data is telling,” he said.

Bell BCE-T had 1,748 complaints, or 16.4 per cent of all gripes, up 57.5 per cent from the commission’s 2023 mid-year report. There were 1,437 complaints about Telus Corp. T-T, 13.5 per cent of the total and up 48.1 per cent from last year.

The report highlighted a 91-per-cent resolution rate for complaints received by the commission, most of which within 20 days. It recommends customers file their complaints on its website after contacting their provider if the company is unable to resolve the matter on its own.

“It’s really important that customers understand that if they can’t solve their dispute with their service provider, they’re not out of luck,” Mr. Maker said.

“That’s not the end of the conversation.”

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