CRTC moves to create internet code of conduct in surprise timing - EcoFinBiz Blog

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CRTC moves to create internet code of conduct in surprise timing

Canada’s telecommunications regulator may slap more rules on large internet service providers in the face of a rising number of complaints about their services.

On Friday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission launched a proceeding to establish a mandatory code of conduct for internet service providers in order to address problems of contract clarity, bill shock and barriers to switching service providers.

There are already codes for wireless and television services, introduced in 2013 and 2017, respectively. The wireless code, which effectively axed three-year contracts and capped much-loathed roaming and data overage fees, was costly for providers to implement.

With internet access increasingly critical to Canadians, it’s no shock the CRTC is moving toward a code. Yet the timing of a call surprised the industry.

The CRTC just wrapped up a government-mandated public inquiry into whether telecom providers use aggressive or misleading sales practices. At the October hearing, an internet code was discussed as a potential solution to some of the problems. Many internet-related complaints stemmed from the point of sale, where numerous customers reported a mismatch between what they thought they agreed to buy and the actual price or service they received.

Despite the overlap between the two files, the CRTC said the two proceedings are distinct. It called for public comments on whether an internet a code is needed, what should be in it and how it will be implemented, administered and enforced.

“While Internet services play an important role in the everyday lives of Canadians, the number of complaints has been trending up and we are of the view that a code for these services may be needed,” CRTC chairman Ian Scott said in a statement.

The Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS), the watchdog that consumers turn to as a last resort if they can’t resolve problems with their provider, reported a 38 per cent increase in complaints about internet services in its 2016-17 annual report.

The CRTC’s suggestions for the code included requiring door-to-door salespeople to clarify time-limited discounts, demanding service providers notify customers when they’ve used their monthly data allotment, and insisting upon trial periods of up to 30 days where a customer can cancel free of charge.

The code will not address prices, competition, wholesale issues, advertised broadband speeds, internet traffic management, privacy or content on the internet.

The CRTC recommended the new rules only apply to incumbent cable and telephone providers such as Rogers Communications Inc., Shaw Communications Inc., Videotron Inc., Telus Corp, BCE Inc. and SaskTel. These players serve 87 per cent of the market. Smaller providers such as TekSavvy (there are 550 such resellers across Canada) would not be subject to the code.

Spokespeople from Rogers and Telus said they will actively participate in the consultation process.

“Our customer-first approach includes our commitment to being clear, simple and fair every time we connect with our customers, and our in-market residential plans are month-to-month with no early cancellation fee,” Rogers spokeswoman Sarah Schmidt said in an email.

Telus also touted its consumer-friendly ways.

“We’ve had the fewest complaints of any national carrier for the last six years,” spokeswoman Erin Dermer said in an email, adding that Telus has the highest customer loyalty rates.

Bell is still reviewing the notice, spokesman Marc Choma said.

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