In January, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) asked the CRTC to look into the possibly shady sales practices of Canada’s telecommunications companies. Not a bad idea, considering that I, a fellow who knows his way around these sorts of things fairly decently, can sometimes find himself a little lost in all of the intentional and unintentional unclarity. Surely anyone who doesn’t run a phone company would be clambering to be first in line behind this plan.
Well, you’d think so.
Yesterday the CRTC responded, and did so in the form of a big fat nope.
In a February 14th, 2018 letter addressed to the PIAC’s executive director and general counsel John Lawford, the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission’s chairperson Ian Scott declined the PIAC’s request, arguing that Canadians already have several avenues to seek redress for telecom concerns.
“If Canadians consider that their wireless, internet, home phone or TV service provider has not provided clear and accurate information to them about their [contracts], or is not acting in a manner consistent with the CRTC’s Wireless Code or Television Provider Service Code, they should first try to resolve the issue with their service provider,” said Scott, in the February letter. “If the matter is not resolved to their satisfaction, they are encouraged to escalate the complaint to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS).”
“…they should first try to resolve the issue with their service provider.”
The CCTS acts as the CRTC’s complaints department. Canadians are able to submit complaints to the CCTS, which will serve to remediate those concerns by working as a bridge between consumers and carriers.
“For example, the CCTS can resolve disputes about what is included in the contract, how the contract should be interpreted, and whether the service provider’s conduct meets its obligations,” said Scott, in the same February letter.
Scott further argued that if directly contacting carriers and submitting complaints to the CCTS fails to resolve any issues, Canadians can contact the Competition Bureau.
MobileSyrup reached out to the CRTC for comment, and a spokesperson responded that the Commission’s letter speaks for itself.
That’s all fine and good, aside from the part where it’s neither fine nor good.
Yes, those dispute resolution options do exist, but they’re designed to interpret contracts that have already been signed, not to prevent consumers from entering into those contracts due to deception. Yes, there are plain language provisions in the wireless code of Conduct, but they don’t stop a company from being plainly dishonest because they know that most people won’t bother to complain and often have no idea they’re being tricked until they’ve already been separated from hundreds or thousands of dollars. And even if somebody does manage to successfully complain on those grounds, the money raked in is worth taking a slap on the wrist, assuming the commission can even be arsed to dish one out.
Sometimes the CRTC does seem like it’s trying to get this stuff right and genuinely wants to help consumers, but this is an area where it’s missing the mark. I realize that there are some complicated, subjective issues here (one man’s obnoxious asshole is another man’s salesman of the year), but there are very clearly things going on that are objectively not ok, and the commission owes it to everyone to at least take a look at them and try to find a way forward. Corporations often don’t make good citizens until they’re forced to, and whether that force comes in the form of penalties that actually fit the crime, more robust compliance monitoring, criminal prosecutions for fraud and theft or all of the above, it absolutely needs to come.