Canadian mobile service providers heavily promote their ability to easily allow customers to take with them their phone numbers when they switch carriers. However, a recent report by the Commission for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) indicates that the process is often confusing and marked by errors.
On many occasions, customers ended up being double-billed by both their previous and new providers.
The telecom industry reporting body also warned wireless service consumers they could be charged by third-party companies anywhere from $0.15 to $10 per message for so-called short code messages or text messages associated with contests and live TV shows employing text voting like Canadian Idol.
“For the typical wireless customer, there’s a lot of ambiguity around terms of service and billing,” said Howard Maker, CCTS commissioner. Maker, last week told ITBusiness.ca that billing errors and contract disputes where the top issues his office dealt with.
Number portability – there’s a catch
The CCTS report said it found that the process used by providers to port landline and wireless numbers between providers “can be confusing and that errors often ensue.”
“For example, we have seen cases in which providers submitted the wrong customer information or wrong dates on the porting the order. Some have not included all of the services that were supposed to be ported whereas others have included services that were not intended to be ported,” the report said.
There were even instances of providers submitting porting orders to provide landline service without actually having the necessary facilities available to deliver that service to the customer.
The CCTS report did not name the companies involved in the cases, but provided several case studies to illustrate the problem.
In one case study a customer asked a wireless service provider to port his wireless number from a previous service provider. The porting was completed on the date requested and the customer began using the service from the new provider.
A few weeks later, the customer received a bill from his previous provider. According to the old provider, the customer’s account with them was still active.
“We found that the old provider had indeed ‘released the customer’s number to the new provider…but it had not cancelled the billing of the account, which is done through a separate system,” the CCTS report said.
“In practice, consumers are generally forced to incur both needless cost and inconveniences in order to port a number,” according to the CCTS.
Most companies, the CCTS said, require that a customer provide 30 days notice prior to terminating service, even if they are on a fixed term contract that is expiring. If the customer fails to inform the old provider that they are terminating service, the old provider will bill the customer for an additional 30 days from the time it was informed of the termination.
It would appear that a customer needs to terminate existing service before porting it to another provider. However, in order to port a number to another provider, the number must remain active, said the report.
Under this arrangement, a customer is billed by the old provider for another 30 days (because the account has to remain active to facilitate porting) and the customer is billed by the new provider who is now providing the new service.
How to escape double billing
“One option is for providers to revisit the policy requiring 30 days notice for termination or service when a customer is porting to another provider,” the CCTS recommended.
A second option involves “future-dating” of porting orders. The CCTS said customers can request a new provider to port their numbers “30 days into the future.”
The old provider can accept this as a customer’s 30 days notice, said the CCTS. “During this period the old provider continues to provide service and only it bills the customer. Thirty days later, when the number is ported, the new provider begins to provide the service and only it bills the customer.”
Short codes and premium text rates
So-called short codes or text messages that are five to six digits long are often used for mobile contests or TV shows that incorporate text message voting features. Customers using these services can be billed from $0.15 to $10 per text message.
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These messages are delivered and billed by mobile carriers on behalf of a third-party content provider. A wireless industry body, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), provides guidelines for the process in signing up customers for the service and for allowing customers to opt out of the service.
Despite, a “double opt-in” requirement (after a customer sends an initial text to the short code provider for signing up, the customer receives a text response which requires the customer to reply with a PIN number), the CCTS said it receives a large amount of complaints over billing.
The CCTS said customers frequently complained that they did not sign up for the service or that they were not aware of the frequency and cost of the messages.
How to stop premium text charges
In order to avoid short code message problems, the CCTS suggest that customers do the following:
- Be careful of disclosing you wireless number online
- Be wary of using online applications on social networks that ask for your wireless number
If you are billed for premium text messages and you believe you have not signed up for the service, you should:
- Immediately text “STOP” to the short code that sent you the text (This should appear on your bill and, if you haven’t deleted it, it will appear on your handset)
- Check your previous bill as this may not be the first time you are billed for premium text.
- Call your wireless service provider and the company that sent you the premium text message and file a complaint. Ask them to remove the charges.
- If you cannot resolve the dispute, contact the CCTS.