Wireless carriers still not clear on contracts, roaming, says telecom complaints czar

It would appear that many of Canada’s wireless service providers are very good at providing less-than-optimal service while still operating within the boundaries of the law, according to a new report by the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS).

Filed on Oct. 2, the report was written in response to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) call for comments regarding the effectiveness of Canada’s Wireless Code of Conduct.

And while CCTS commissioner and CEO Howard Maker refrains from sharing his personal opinion, reading the report it’s difficult to avoid the impression that service providers are doing everything they can to charge customers excess data and roaming fees while letting them know as little as possible about it.

For instance, under the code multi-user plans such as Rogers’ Share Everything plan require contract holders to approve additional data or roaming services if charges exceed $50 and $100, respectively.

The code is designed to prevent another high-profile case like Burnaby, B.C.’s Matt Buie, whom Rogers initially charged $22,000 in 2013 after his 11-year-old son watched several hours of YouTube during a family trip to Mexico. (According to CBC, Buie eventually negotiated the bill down to $200.)

However, without naming any specific businesses CCTS discovered that certain providers were only sending notifications to the individual device racking up data fees, allowing the user of said device to approve additional fees – a problematic arrangement that theoretically would have given Buie’s 11-year-old son (who it should be noted was devastated when he learned what his father was being charged) the authority to rack up the bill he did.

At least one provider didn’t even apply the data or roaming cap at $50 or $100, CCTS found. Instead, it calculated the threshold by multiplying the number of wireless devices attached to the shared plan by $50 or $100.

Also problematic was service providers’ interpretation of data as an “add-on” to wireless plans, rather than a “key term,” according to CCTS. The distinction is crucial: to change “key terms” requires a customer’s consent, and the extent to which they can be changed is limited. By framing data as an “add-on,” “optional service,” or “promotion,” service providers can change a consumer’s data plan without their consent; all they need do is provide 30 days’ notice.

Another problem identified by the CCTS was how service providers interpreted their obligation to provide users with both a permanent copy of their contract, and a “critical information summary” of key rights and responsiblities to ensure that customers understand the terms. Instead, CCTS discovered that some providers are incorporating the summary into their contracts, or using it as the contract itself, potentially limiting consumer awareness.

CCTS also noted that at least two providers – again, it didn’t specify which – drafted their agreements so that in agreeing to their wireless contract, users were consenting to receive the contract’s permanent copy via email, with no apparent options for customers of either provider to receive their contracts any other way.

Moreover, CCTS also found that certain providers, rather than sending a permanent copy at all, simply sent subscribers a link to their website – which, it noted, can be changed, violating the spirit of the requirement.

Since the Wireless Code’s launch three years ago, CCTS has identified 6,935 alleged breaches in customer complaints. Of these, the organization investigated 1,596, and found that service providers had breached the code 858 times.

You can read CCTS’s full report here.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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