Bell Canada ranks first in cell phone complaints tally

The Commission for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS), an organization funded by the telecom industry to resolve complaints against companies in the space, released a report last week indicating that billing errors and contract disputes where the top two grievances by customers against their telecom service providers.

The CCTS’s report for the year also named Bell Canada, Telus Mobility and Rogers Wireless as the top three companies with the largest number of complaints received.

“The incumbents registered the largest number of complaints because they account for the larger share of telecom customers,” said Howard Maker, CCTS commissioner.

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Of the 3,747 complaints received by the CCTS, 1,428 were addressed to Bell Canada, 657 concerned Telus and 540 were for Rogers.

Virgin Mobile, which is owned partly by Bell, registered 227 complaints; Solo Mobile, also owned by Bell, had six complaints. Fido, which is owned by Rogers, had 242 complaints. Koodo, a subsidiary of Telus had 59 complaints.

The rest of the complaints were distributed among other wireless service, local exchange, Voice over IP, Internet access, long distance and other telecom service providers including new entrants to the mobile wireless space.

Numbers don’t mean our customers are unhappy – Bell

The report numbers are not an indication that Bell customers are unhappy with the company, according to Jacqueline Michelis, spokesperson for Bell. She pointed out that when viewed in light of Bell’s customers base the number of complaints are small.

“I think the numbers do reflect Bell’s sheer size, we’re Canada’s biggest telecom company with about 20 million wireless, landline and Internet customer connections,” she said.

Michelis also said the company is continually improving service. “We’re executing new investments of approximately $3 billion in 2010 in new service programs and in broadband network expansion,” she said.

ITBusiness.ca sent a request for interview to Rogers, but the company has not replied.

Validation of new entrant strategies

Ken Campbell, CEO for new wireless market entrant Wind Mobile, sees it differently. His company, which entered the Canadian wireless market in 2009, only has one complaint against it. But then again, Wind, which is owned by Globalive Communications, has only about 100,000 subscribers.

“I think the results of the study is a validation of our strategy,” Campbell told ITBusiness.ca

The findings reflect the frustration of wireless consumers with the services that incumbents provide, he added.

“Complaints over restrictive and complicated contracts, and arbitrary billing increases are turning away customers,” he said.

Wind and other new entrants such as Mobilicty and Public Mobile have concentrated on offering users cheaper pay-as-you go services, or non-contract subscriptions.

Legalese and unclear contracts

According to the report, billing errors accounted for 44 per cent of the overall complaints received for the period; contract disputes, 33 per cent; service delivery (installation, repair and maintenance), 18 per cent; and unauthorized transfer of service (also known as slamming), 3 per cent.

“Billing and contract disputes continue to be a sore point as they account for nearly 80 per cent of the complaints,” said Maker. “This could often be traced to misunderstanding brought about by contracts that are unclear.”

Maker said, mobile service contracts for instance are often written with heavy legal oversight “and are hard to understand for the typical layman.”

CCTS has limited authority

“However, the CCTS has no authority to compel service providers to alter their contract wordings. We can only make recommendations and try to resolve problems when they arise,” he said.

When a complaint is brought to the CCTS, the body investigates the matter, then CCTS attempts to resolve the matter between the complainant and the telecom company. The CCTS can also put forward recommendations for the company to follow to resolve the matter. If parties cannot agree, the CCTS renders a decision.

The 160 or so telecom companies that have signed up to take part in the CCTS process can either agree or disagree with the industry body’s recommendations.

The CCTS, Make said, can “publicize” a company’s refusal to take up the recommendations. But CCTS does not fine or penalize companies that refuse to mend its ways. “We are not a regulator we only provide dispute resolution.”

Still, Maker said 2010 was a good year for the CCTS because consumer contact has gone up by 16 per cent indicated that more people are aware of the organization.

As much as 94 per cent of the complaints CCTS received were fully processed. More than 64 per cent were resolved within 30 days. Off the 22 formal recommendations it made, 18 per cent were accepted by both parties and the CCTS only had to render four decisions.

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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