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Half of telecom providers not following website complaints section rules: watchdog

Canada's telecom and television complaints watchdog says many telecom providers aren't following complaints section rules on their websites, and it's particularly concerned about some repeat offenders.
Lights on an internet switch are lit up as with users in an office in Ottawa, on February 10, 2011. Canada's telecom and television complaints watchdog says it is concerned about some companies' repeated non-compliance with its requirements, including more than half of those it audited whose websites don't have an easily accessible complaints section. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada's telecom and television complaints watchdog says many telecom providers aren't following complaints section rules on their websites, and it's particularly concerned about some repeat offenders.

The Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS) released its annual compliance report on Thursday. The report found just over half of the 51 communications providers audited didn't have an easily accessible complaints section on their website.

Just 35 per cent of providers were fully compliant with requirements to inform their customers about the CCTS on their respective websites in both official languages.

However, the watchdog characterized that as a "positive" result, as it was an increase from just 14 per cent that were fully compliant in 2019, and compared with a historical average of around 20 per cent.

The report measures the industry's performance in following the watchdog's complaint-handling process and informing customers about its services. It also captures whether service providers are meeting their obligations to pay CCTS fees and share financial information with the commission.

"The good news is that every year we do these audits, most of the providers do work with us to fully address their compliance issues," said Janet Lo, CCTS assistant commissioner for legal, regulatory and stakeholder affairs, in an interview.

"We would like to see that improve and we would like to see that number continue to rise, but it is an improvement compared to historical rates."

The report found 29 per cent of audited companies were non-compliant entirely, with no CCTS information on their websites.

The commission requires search functions to direct visitors to information about the CCTS’ dispute resolution process when looking up relevant keywords. Lo said this information should be "easy to find," which the commission defines as no more than two clicks away from a website's home page.

Despite annual reminders of those rules, the report said both Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp. have been non-compliant with search function requirements in four of the past five years.

"The main issue for both (providers) was that searching their business websites did not result in the required CCTS information. Another issue has been missing key words on their French and English residential websites," the report said.

"Overall, this is concerning given that Rogers and Telus have been audited for compliance with the public awareness plan since 2017 and they are well aware of this requirement."

In a statement, Telus said it resolved the issue by last November, which it blamed on website updates that intermittently affected the CCTS search function.

"As an organization rooted in putting our customers first, we are committed to continuously improving our processes," Telus spokeswoman Brandi Merker said.  

"We have now implemented weekly checks to test website functionality to not only ensure compliance with CCTS guidelines, but to deliver a more seamless customer experience moving forward."

Rogers spokesman Cam Gordon said his company has also resolved the issues and is "continually improving our processes as we make routine updates to pages on our website."

Lo said publicly naming companies that break the rules is one tool at the commission's disposal to enforce the obligations in the case of recurring compliance issues.

In more severe cases, such as a provider refusing to implement a resolution ordered by the watchdog following a complaint, Lo said the CCTS would consider expelling the company from its membership. That would prompt the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to get involved, opening the door for financial penalties.

"We typically reserve those for very rare and egregious cases of non-compliance," Lo said.

"It's really saved for cases where providers have denied customers access to the CCTS, or through the complaints, they have denied them a right of recourse or remedy to be made whole."

Last month, a report by the commission found complaints about phone, internet and television services were up 43 per cent halfway through its reporting year. It pointed to an "alarming" rise in customer gripes related to overcharges on bills, calling the trend a "cause for concern."

Its latest report on non-compliance said it identified around a dozen providers that "did not promptly implement customer redress to which they had agreed, or which was mandated by the CCTS after an investigation" in 2023.

The report said the CCTS worked with those providers to ensure the customers received the required remedies.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2024.

Companies in this story: (TSX:RCI.B, TSX:T)

Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press