The CRTC has published a code of conduct for Internet service providers (ISPs) aimed at providing Canadians with more safeguards against the shady practices of Big Telecom.
Set to come into effect Jan. 31, the Internet Code is intended to protect Canadians from so-called bill shock and arm consumers with easier-to-understand information on everything from security deposits and disconnections to bundles, time-limited discounts, and data-usage limits.
New rules will allow customers to cancel a contract with a service provider within 45 days, without paying an early cancellation fee, if the contract differs from the offer. Once in effect, the code will also obligate ISPs to notify a customer when they reach, 75%, 90% and 100% of their data-usage limit within a single monthly billing cycle.
The code will apply to large ISPs, including Bell Canada, Rogers, TELUS, Cogeco, SaskTel, Videotron, Eastlink, Shaw Telecom, Xplornet, and Northwestel, however the commission stated in a release that it expects all other ISPS “to behave in a manner consistent with the principle set out in the Code.” It will be administered by the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) which noted a 56% increase in internet-related complaints in 2017-18 over the previous year.
“During our consultations, many Canadians told us about the challenges they face with their Internet service providers, including unclear agreements, unanticipated price increases and inconsistencies between offers and their bills,” said CRTC chair Ian Scott, in a release. “With the new Internet Code, we are closing the gap and providing Canadians with protections for the Internet, wireless and TV services in their bundle. The new Code will empower customers and make it easier for them to take advantage of competitive offers.”
CRTC process controversial
The CRTC consultations on the proposed code of conduct were among the most contentious in recent memory with a number of high-profile Canadian telecom researchers and consumer groups opting not to participate due to the tight time frame given (28 business days to prepare initial comments). Among them were OpenMedia, the Consumers Association of Canada (National and Manitoba branch), Ageing + Communication + Technologies (ACT), the Forum for Research and Policy in Communication (FRPC), the Consumers Council of Canada, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
In addition to overlapping with submission deadlines for the Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review (BTLR), some groups questioned holding the proceeding at all concurrent to the BTLR. Despite the tight timeframe imposed on stakeholders, in late February the commission re-opened the proceeding for public consultation via Facebook.
Code “falls short of expectations”: OpenMedia
OpenMedia says while a step in the right direction, the code “fails to provide a sufficiently robust framework to protect customers from Big Telecom’s widespread predatory practices.”
Laura Tribe, the consumer advocacy group’s executive director, says the rushed nature of the proceeding without adequate consultation from public interest groups, is clearly visible in the final result.
“The Code fails to provide any meaningful penalties to providers for known systemic issues like misleading and aggressive sales tactics, and continues to put the burden of proof and complaint on individual customers, despite these being long-standing concerns throughout the industry,” wrote Tribe in a blog post.
“While this is definitely a step in the right direction, the CRTC’s new Internet Code does not go far enough to truly protect customers from the systemically broken, predatory behaviour of Canada’s largest Internet service providers. What we need are penalties strong enough to scare Big Telecom into behaving better – and as it stands, the Internet Code does nothing but incentivize more of the status quo,” said Tribe. “Customers definitely need these enhanced protections against Big Telecom, and the improved contract clarity and transparency the Code provides is progress. But by not addressing the well-known systemic problems, including aggressive and misleading sales practices, and without any significant enforcement mechanisms to discourage bad behaviour, it’s hard to see what change this Code will actually bring to the retail space, where customers continue to be mistreated day in and day out.”
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