The Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services will soon have a bigger job regulating service providers after a review by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has broadened its mandate.

Yesterday the CRTC released “Broadcasting and Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-102,” a 16,000-word decision report based on an extensive review of the CCTS that was conducted last November and involved more than 20 organizations, including Rogers Communications Inc., Bell Inc., CCTS itself, and several individual Canadians.

In addition to reaffirming the status of CCTS as an independent body that helps consumers resolve disputes regarding their phone, wireless, and Internet services, the report outlines a handful of proposed and mandated changes to the organization’s operations, such as giving CCTS jurisdiction over licensed television service providers (TVSPs) as of Sept. 1, 2017, and encouraging the organization to increase efforts to monitor and ensure that service providers comply with industry standards.

“We appreciate all of the input from everyone and think this is a vote of confidence from the commission, especially adding the TV piece to our mandate,” CCTS commissioner Howard Maker told ITBusiness.ca. The CCTS was founded in 2007.

The CRTC divided its report into nine categories, a roughly equal mix of consumer and industry concerns, including the CCTS’s mandate; how it can address consumer complaints; its governing structure; and the extent to which telecommunications service providers (TSPs) themselves should participate.

However, except for its decision to add television companies to the CCTS’s mandate, the CRTC largely advocated retaining the status quo, concluding that the CCTS has “generally been effective in helping consumers resolve complaints that they have been unable to resolve with their service providers” and noting that the organization’s customer satisfaction rate was almost 90 per cent, though in certain categories such as enforcing industry standards the CRTC said that the CCTS should be taking greater advantage of the tools at its disposal, including expulsion, civil litigation, and “naming and shaming.”

During last November’s review, CCTS staff had argued that they needed the CRTC’s help to effectively enforce industry standards, asking the CRTC to order all TSPs to comply with its participation agreement; to establish an annual certification process, including spot-checks and consequences for non-compliance; and to collaborate with the CCTS to develop a hearing process.

In its report, the CRTC responded by noting that the CCTS has been reluctant to use the enforcement tools at its disposal – claiming, for example, that expelling a non-compliant service provider would mean its customers would not be able to use its services – and that while it publishes news releases naming companies which have not joined the CCTS after complaints were lodged against them, its “naming and shaming” efforts have not gone far enough.

“The Commission expects the CCTS to more actively monitor and encourage compliance with its obligations, as well as to enforce these obligations,” the report said, “And… to publish in a more prominent manner the names of companies that are non-compliant.”

Despite CCTS participation being mandatory among TSPs, a few small providers – representing only two per cent of Canada’s current industry, the report noted – have not registered, though CCTS regulations require them to do so within 30 days should consumers register a complaint.

(The number of days non-compliant companies have to register was another change mandated by the report – previously non-compliant companies had only five days to register with the CCTS, though they typically waited for an average of 103.)

Industry reactions to the CRTC report have been positive. Andrew Garas, Rogers Communications’ media relations manager, told ITBusiness.ca that his company welcomed the organization’s decision regarding the CCTS.

“Our team works hard every day to make sure our customers have the best service possible and we look forward to continuing to work with the CCTS as their mandate expands to TV services,” he said.

David Christopher, communications manager of consumer advocacy group OpenMedia, praised the CRTC’s decision to incorporate TV service into CCTS’s mandate, calling it “a common-sense step.”

“Given how many people purchase these bundles where you get your phone, your TV and your Internet, it just makes sense to have a single point of contact,” he said.

“I’m not, to be honest, sure that some of the measures in the report really go far enough, but it seems like they’re moving in the right direction,” he added.

One of the most prominent “flies in the ointment,” Christopher said, was the CRTC’s decision to delay its next review of the CCTS until 2022, five years after the rules incorporating television into its complaints process come into effect. Another was the CRTC’s decision to retain the CCTS’s current board structure, which includes three industry representatives among its seven members – enough to overthrow significant decisions that would require an extraordinary resolution vote, or six out of seven affirmatives, to implement.

“It’s quite common in organizations like ours for all stakeholders to have seats at the table, so consumers have two seats and others have two seats on our board,” the CCTS’s Maker said in response. “That’s fairly standard, and the commission thought it was reasonable, so on we go.”

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