Mobile Syrup: Rogers, Bell, Telus refute unsavoury telecom sales practice claims in CRTC submissions

Posted September 8, 2018

Telecoms companies provide Internet, home phone and bundled TV services. It's important that customers are able to informed decisions to ensure these essential products and services meet their needs. Recently, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) began an inquiry into the sales practices of telecoms companies, to understand whether services are being sold fairly and transparently. ACORN invited members across the country to share their experiences. Many members who reached out had been misled when buying a product or service, encountered pushy salespeople, or found their phone, internet or TV package confusing. We will continue to monitor the inquiry and ensure that the voices of low and moderate income Canadians are heard. We want fair telecoms services for all. 

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Canada’s three largest carriers used submissions to a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) request for information regarding misleading or aggressive sales practices to refute claims that Canadians need additional consumer protections when it comes to telecom sales.

Each member of the so-called ‘Big Three’ group of carriers outlined their sales practices, while simultaneously arguing that Canada’s existing regulations and infrastructure are enough to protect consumers from harm.

The Big Three carriers — in addition to the regional players and local incumbents that also submitted documents in response to the CRTC’s request for information — presented a two-pronged front.

On one hand, carriers claimed that they don’t employ misleading or aggressive sales tactics, while, on the other, they claimed that if there were instances of unsavoury practices, the issues were dealt with swiftly and fairly.

In its submission, Canada’s largest carrier Rogers said that “we are not suggesting that there have been no such instances of misleading sales practices,” arguing that such behaviour is “extremely rare at Rogers.”

Rogers later wrote that it “does not employ misleading or aggressive retail sales practices.”

“We use a needs-based approach to retail sales that is designed to meet the needs and budgets of our customers,” reads an excerpt from Rogers’ submission.

Rogers noted that of the approximately 60 million times that Rogers representatives interacted with customers “over the past year,” only 0.004 percent — roughly 2,200 — of those interactions were complaints.

“Over the past year, Rogers sales and service agents interacted with customers on more than 60 million occasions, which resulted in a small number of complaints (2,200) from customers that were sales related,” reads an excerpt from Rogers’s submission.

“That represents less than 0.004 percent of all interactions that our sales and service agents engaged in during the relevant period.”

Bell, Canada’s second-largest carrier, highlighted a number of “formal and informal” channels available to consumers concerned about telecom sales practices, including provincial consumer protection outlets, civil court and the Competition Bureau.

“These formal and informal means of redress are of course in addition to perhaps the single most effective form of consumer protection: the highly competitive telecommunications market place in which customers are free to switch providers in the event that they are dissatisfied,” wrote Bell.

Bell noted that between July 1st, 2017 and July 16th, 2018, fewer than 0.05 percent — approximately 24,000 — of the roughly 54 millions calls the carrier received “were escalated with respect to a sales matter.”

Bell also provided the Commission with formal numbers representing how many customers chose to “terminate or deactivate a service,” but those figures were filed in confidence.

For its part, Canada’s third-largest carrier Telus claimed that its “focus on the customer” is what prevents individuals affiliated with the carrier from abusing consumers.

“Telus strives to ensure that customers are not disappointed after sales interactions and trains and monitors its sales agents to ensure that they provide complete and clear information regarding all aspects of each product and service,” reads an excerpt from Telus’s submission.

As a means of defending its claims, Telus pointed out that the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS) only accepted 511 complaints lodged against Telus.

Telus also chose to submit confidential numbers to the CRTC that represented “well-founded complaints to CCTS and other regulators.”

It’s important to note that as of April 2018, the CCTS calculated a 73 percent increase in telecom complaints compared to the same time in 2017.

Canadian consumers allege years of mistreatment In spite of comments made by all of Canada’s major telecom players, submissions from general telecom consumers and former telecom employees allege years of mistreatment at the hands of Canada’s telecommunications service providers.

While these allegations have yet to be vetted by MobileSyrup, approximately 1,200 individual submissions — as well as additional submissions compiled by digital rights advocacy group OpenMedia — suggest that Canada’s telecom players aren’t as consumer-minded as they claim.

Joshua Powles, a professor of biology at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ontario, used his submission to recount his experience as a Bell representative while working at The Source.

The Source is an electronics retailer currently owned by Bell Canada.

“About a year into my job, I noticed a shift in the company…” — Joshua Powles, former The Source employee Powles said that he began working at The Source in 2014 while he was completing his PhD at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

According to Powles, when he first began working at the retailer, “management was friendly, there was fair yet firm job responsibilities, and we were treated fair and in a positive note.”

“About a year into my job, I noticed a shift in the company, it was well known that Bell was ramping up sales pressure, and The Source was at risk of retaining its status as a company,” said Powles, in his submission to the CRTC.

Eventually, The Source fired Powles’ district manager, replacing him with an individual who Powles described as a “young, aggressive, and overall rude individual.” I was even once told…to lie about Bell services” — Josh Powles Powles new manager allegedly bullied sales representatives “who would not sacrifice everything to make a sale” while also training Bell representatives to force unnecessary or unwanted services onto customers.

“I was even told once, by a Bell representative, to lie about Bell services, in terms of internet speeds and quality to convince [the] elder population to sign up,” said Powles.

Powles eventually left his position at The Source “due to the lack of adequate pay, the pressure and stress implemented upon its staff, and my lack of personal ideologies to lie and cheat customers out of money.”

Important to note is that Powles’ own submission is quite rare, as many of the interventions filed with the Commission were written by irate customers, rather than concerned current or former employees.

A word from the advocates

While Canadians across the country filed submissions highlighting concerns with Canada’s telecom industry, three of the country’s most prominent digital and consumer rights advocates took distinct approaches to addressing the issue of unsavoury telecom sales practices.

OpenMedia, for example, submitted a 325-page document full of additional concerns from Canadian consumers.

The Fair Communications Sales Coalition (FCSC) — a group comprised of the Public Interest and Advocacy Centre (PIAC), Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Canada, the National Pensioners Fund (NPF) and the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) — highlighted results from its own investigations in its 93-page submission.

“In FCSC’s view, the CCTS should administer any consumer protection rules or codes of conduct that result from the Commission’s inquiry and eventual report,” reads an excerpt from the FCSC’s submission.

“With regard to strengthening consumer protections, FCSC envisions the creation of a Telecommunications and Broadcasting Sales Practices Code, which FCSC believes the CCTS should administer.”

For its part, the Forum for Research Policy and Communications (FRPC) raised a number of questions in its submission, including whether or not current and former private-sector telecom employees have any duty or responsibility to “raise their concerns about the current and former employer’ sales practices with their employers, before raising them with the CRTC.”

The FRPC’s submission also highlighted the fact that the CRTC’s current unsavoury telecom sales practice investigation came in the wake of the Commission’s Valentine’s Day denial of a PIAC request for a similar investigation.

The FRPC also added that the Commission has failed to protect current and former telecom employees from “the legal risks they may incur if they breach faith with their employers or disclose confidential information.”

Now that the CRTC has officially closed its request for information, the Commission’s next step is to hold public hearings set to begin on October 22nd, 2018.

Once the hearings have concluded, the Commission has until February 28th, 2019 to submit its final report regarding misleading or aggressive telecom sales practices in Canada.

Article by Sameer Chhabra for Mobile Syrup

See ACORN's submission here