Critics say while the CRTC report on misleading and aggressive telecom sales practices acknowledges there’s a problem, it stops short of committing to any concrete action or timeline.
Wednesday’s report concluded that misleading and aggressive sales practices are occurring “to an unacceptable degree” among telco service providers and some television service providers across all sales channels, including in store, online, over the telephone, and door-to-door.
While making a series of suggestions, including the possibility of expanding the mandate of the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) and establishing administrative monetary penalties for service providers who are non-compliant, the report did not establish any time frame for acting on its recommendations. Most, with the exception of a CRTC plan to enact a nationwide secret shopper program, will require further public process.
Dwayne Winseck, professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University and director of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, says the report’s restraint is indicative of the commission’s reluctance to investigate the issue in the first place.
“My read of this is here we have a reluctant regulator that was strong-armed into doing anything by an order-in-council after having refused to take up the issue at the behest of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC),” Winseck told Broadcast Dialogue.
“The good thing about the report is it acknowledges there’s a problem, the bad thing is it doesn’t really do anything other than deliver empty platitudes about what it might do and suggestions for some possible remedies. There is no clear, actionable agenda or timeline on when they would be done,” said Winseck.
PIAC initially requested a public inquiry into inappropriate, aggressive and misleading sales of telecommunications and related services, following a Fall 2017 CBC report highlighting the issue. Initially rejected by CRTC chair Ian Scott, the inquiry only proceeded after the intervention of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) Min. Navdeep Bains.
The Fair Communications Sales Coalition, whose members include PIAC, ACORN Canada (ACORN), National Pensioners Federation (NPF) and Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) heralded Wednesday’s report as a milestone for consumer protection in internet, home phone, television and wireless sales.
“Consumers told us that they were being misled, oversold and treated aggressively when they interacted with their telecom and TV service providers, whether at the door, on the phone, in a store or online,” said John Lawford, co-counsel to the FCSC, in a press release. “We are extremely pleased that the CRTC believed those consumers and mapped out how to help,” he added.
Several other consumer advocacy groups, including Open Media, decried the report’s lack of commitment to next steps.
“This report told us what we already knew – the system is broken, and customers are getting hurt. Unfortunately, what we really needed today was action to stem the bad behaviour – and that’s not what the CRTC delivered,” wrote Laura Tribe, executive director of Open Media, in a blog post. “The problem here has been recognized by the CRTC, ISED, and the CCTS. But in an ongoing game of hot potato, it seems everyone has ideas, but no one is willing to take action. Without financial penalties to offenders, or concrete next steps to hold them accountable, what protections do Canadians really have? Reassurances everyone can see the problem don’t help people who have lost their money, been misled, and are continuing to interface with these companies. We need action.”