“It was definitely discouraging when the CRTC rejected it the first time around,” said Laura Tribe, executive director of consumer advocacy group Open Media.
“It is also encouraging to see that they’re taking this opportunity to get it right.”
Monday’s announcement included an invitation for Canadians to go online to share their personal experiences involving questionable telco sales tactics. The CRTC also plans to conduct a public opinion survey and focus groups on the issue, as well as hold a public hearing in Gatineau, Que., starting on Oct. 22.
‘We were shocked’
In January, multiple consumer groups called on the CRTC to hold a public inquiry following several reports by CBC’s Go Public team about high-pressure tactics used by telco employees selling TV, internet and wireless services.
Since the reports began in November, hundreds of customers have contacted Go Public to complain about being charged higher rates than what they originally negotiated over the phone, or not receiving what a sales agent promised.
In one case, Shaelene McInnis of Oshawa, Ont., complained that Bell was charging her aging in-laws for internet service, unbeknownst to them. In another, Bert Reket of Owen Sound, Ont., said he wound up locked into a two-year contract with Rogers that he never wanted.
More than 200 current and former telco employees — mostly at Bell and Rogers — have also reached out to Go Public, describing what they say is intense pressure to mislead and lie to customers in order to hit unrealistic sales targets.
“We were shocked,” said Ken Whitehurst, executive director of the Consumers Council of Canada. “Employees are even coming out, saying they’re uncomfortable with what they’re being asked to do.”
In February, the CRTC announced there was no need for a public inquiry because there are already “a variety of options available” for unhappy customers. These include complaining to the Competition Bureau, which investigates deceptive marketing practices.
But the CRTC changed its tune after the federal government weighed in back in June, ordering the telecom regulator to conduct and complete an inquiry by February 2019.
“Like many Canadians, we are concerned by allegations of clearly inappropriate sales practices by telecom carriers,” Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said in a statement at the time.
Will it do any good?
Susan Eckersley of Whitby, Ont., says she recently discovered her home phone, internet and television provider had locked her into a two-year contract without asking. She’s pleased the CRTC has launched the inquiry, but questions if it will do any good.
“How on earth are you going to police something like that?” she said. “I don’t think they can totally enforce it, and certainly can’t monitor it.”
Open Media’s Laura Tribe says she, too, has concerns about whether the inquiry will result in any substantial change. But she believes it’s a good first step that will help put the issue of aggressive sales tactics in the spotlight.
“If nothing else, this helps get more evidence on the record and make very clear exactly what’s happening.”
CBC News reached out to the major telcos for their response to the inquiry announcement.
“We work to deliver the best possible experience for our customers,” Rogers spokesperson Michelle Kelly said. “We will share how we strive to be clear, simple and fair with our customers.”
Bell spokesperson Marc Choma said the company’s success “is built on delivering the best customer experience, so we look forward to these discussions.”
Telus and Shaw didn’t respond, but back in January both said they would be open to participating in a public inquiry.