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The Globe and Mail

Bad cellphone service? Help is on the way

Just in time for the holidays: A promise that you'll soon have someone to complain to about your cellphone service.

For the first time, the CRTC has issued a ruling from the bench at the end of a regulatory hearing, rather than after the usual 120 days, mandating that all telecom providers in Canada must become members of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS).

The independent agency, which is financed by the industry, was created three years ago to mediate between consumers and their Internet, phone and wireless providers. Previously, only companies with at least $10-million in annual revenues were required to be CCTS members. A large number of complaints received each year by the agency had to be dismissed because the providers involved were not members.

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The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission wrote in its ruling, delivered at the end of a scheduled review of the agency, that "having considered the full record of the proceeding" the regulator was acting so that consumers would have certainty about the status of the agency "during this holiday season and beyond."

More than 40,000 Canadians contacted the CCTS in the past year about concerns they had, but many complaints fall either outside of the agency's mandate (on issues such as pricing, for example) or were made about companies that weren't members.

BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc., and Telus Corp., the country's largest providers, are already members of the agency; most of the complaints filed relate to those three, which is not surprising given their customer bases.

Appearing at the hearing, which began Monday, the three companies said increased competition means they are now battling for subscribers partly on customer service, arguing that the CCTS is redundant because the member companies also handle complaints. But perhaps realizing that the agency would not be disbanded, the companies also argued that membership should be mandatory for all telecom providers, no matter what their size.

Citizens' groups, such as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, asked the regulator to increase the scope of the complaint agency's powers, and also pushed for mandatory membership.

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