The Canadian Television-Radio and Telecommunications Commission confirmed Wednesday what has been widely alleged for years — that Canada’s telecommunications industry uses unacceptable sales practices that mislead consumers and harm vulnerable members of the public.
The national telecom regulator said the misleading and aggressive practices exist in all types of sales channels including in stores, online, over the telephone and at homes when companies conduct door-to-door sales campaigns.
“Many Canadians stated that they have been subjected to misleading or aggressive sales practices by the service providers, with many of them reporting that these instances occurred recently,” the report says.
It said the record shows the most vulnerable members of the public are seniors, people with disabilities and Canadians whose first language isn’t English or French.
The report was compiled after five days of testimony at public hearings in October and months information gathering by the CRTC.
The inquiry focused on the sales practices of 12 Canadian providers of wireless and internet services, with much of the attention focused on BCE’s Bell Canada — the country’s biggest telecommunications company.
Bell said repeatedly in documents and testimony it has a stringent code of conduct for employees and contractors and a relatively good track record, but that it could be improved.
Other publicly traded companies under scrutiny were Rogers Communications, Telus Communications, Quebecor’s Videotron, Cogeco Communications and Shaw Communications.
The 41-page report doesn’t spell out which companies have the worst track records.
Instead, the CRTC said it plans to follow up its report with measures to address the problems identified through the inquiry — although many of them will require additional, time-consuming regulatory proceedings.
Among the most certain actions is a “secret shopper” program that the CRTC plans to create to periodically target specific sales channels or locations across Canada.
“The CRTC intends to publish the results of the secret shopper program for consumers to use as another piece of information when making decisions about their communications services,” the report says.
It also intends to create new tools for consumers, such as a checklist that informs what rules apply and which organizations are best-suited to addressing complaints.
“These tools would provide a road map of rights and remedies for Canadians who believe they have experienced misleading or aggressive retail sales practices by the service providers.”
But there are concerns about how quickly the CRTC will act on its intentions, given the complexity of the issues identified by the inquiry and the commission’s other responsibilities as a quasi-judicial body.
For instance, the CRTC began a process last year after the inquiry to create a new mandatory code of conduct for internet service providers, who sometimes use door-to-door sales teams when they roll out new products.
It may require service providers to provide pre-sale quotes or other measures that would allow potential customers to make more informed decisions, but industry players have warned such measures could stifle competition.
The work of the commission may also be complicated by the Trudeau government’s ongoing review of the federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting acts, which won’t be completed until after the national election in October.
The CRTC was ordered to conduct the hearings in June in response to a series of reports by the CBC and other media and a rising number of consumer complaints through various channels.
Navdeep Bains, the minister responsible for telecommunications, directed the CRTC to deliver its report by Feb. 28.
A spokesman for Bains said Wednesday morning that the minister was expected to issue a statement on the CRTC’s report in the afternoon.
Companies in this story: (TSX:BCE, TSX:RCI.B, TSX:T, TSX:SJR.B, TSX:QBR.
David Paddon, The Canadian Press