After three years of decline, the number of complaints registered against Canada’s telecommunications firms rose by 11 per cent this year, according to the latest annual report from the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS).

Nearly half (8543, or 46.3 per cent) of the 18,448 complaints registered related to wireless service, while another 5763, or 31 per cent, related to Internet service. Others included allegations of Canadian Wireless Code violations, such as sudden contract changes, implemented data overage caps, and failure to provide notice before the disconnection of service – though CCTS also reported a “substantial decrease” in the number of confirmed breaches. (Out of 3111 alleged breaches, only 86 were confirmed as violations.)

CCTS commissioner Howard Maker told ITBusiness.ca that while the number of complaints had gone up, that didn’t mean the number of Wireless Code breaches were related, nor was he sure the number of complaints was an issue to be concerned about, noting that the increased number of complaints could be a result of the organization’s various public awareness campaigns.

CCTS commissioner Howard Maker says it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from the fact that the number of complaints registered against telecoms went up in 2017.

“It’s difficult to draw any conclusions from one year,” he said. “Were there any large scale multi-customer issues that might have increased the numbers? Yes. Bell had an across the board price increase that got a lot of media attention and generated a lot of complaints.”

In fact, among Canada’s big three wireless service providers, Bell Canada once again took the top spot by a wide margin, representing 3247, or 35.7 per cent of 9097 accepted complaints, a 10.4 per cent increase over last year. In second place, Rogers Communications Inc. received 1078 complaints – 11.9 per cent of the accepted total and a 25.2 per cent increase over last year – while Telus Corp. received 631 complaints – 6.9 per cent of the total and a 10.7 per cent increase over last year.

Asked why Bell continued to be the leader in registered complaints, and by such a wide margin, Maker said it was a good question, and one we should ask Bell.

“Bell talks about their large customer base,” he said. “They want people to accept that more customers means more complaints. I think there is more than that going on though.”

Each of the big three carriers declined interviews requested by ITBusiness.ca, but sent emailed statements.

“Bell is the largest communications company in Canada by far, so we do tend to see the highest number of complaints,” spokesperson Jacqueline Michelis wrote on the company’s behalf. “But relative to the industry, the results show we continue to make progress. The CCTS report shows Bell had the lowest increase in complaints compared to our major competitors, and our overall share of complaints continues to decline each year.”

“Improving our customers’ experience is a key priority for us,” a Rogers spokesperson wrote. “Over the past five years, our CCTS complaints have gone down over 70 per cent, but this is an ongoing effort and we have more work to do.”

“While we have seen a small increase in complaints year over year, Telus continues to have the fewest complaints of any national carrier, a position we have maintained for the last six years through a relentless focus on putting our customers first,” Telus’ official statement read. “However, we know we still have work to do, and that to improve, we need to continue to listen carefully to our customers. We welcome this kind of feedback, and will continue to learn from the CCTS report and its findings.”

It’s worth noting that the CCTS reported separate numbers for Bell, Rogers, and Telus’ discount divisions, with Bell’s Virgin Mobile receiving 608 complaints, representing 6.7 per cent of the total and a 22.3 per cent increase over last year; while Rogers’ Fido received 455 complaints – five per cent of the total and an increase of only 0.4 per cent over last year; and Telus’ Koodo received 263 complaints, worth 2.9 per cent of the total and a 27.1 per cent increase over last year. Bell’s Atlantic division, Bell Aliant, also received 129 complaints, a 57.3 increase over last year and 1.4 per cent of the total, while the newly formed Bell MTS received 69 complaints, an 11.3 per cent increase over last year and 0.8 per cent of the total.

Combined, the big three and their various divisions received 6480 complaints, or 71.3 per cent of the accepted total.

Maker said another reason for the rising number of complaints might be CCTS’s broadened mandate, which now includes the Television Service Provider Code, which until this year had been regulated by the CRTC.

“We had a ton of work to do on that, as we had to open up participation to TV service providers and change our by laws and service codes to accommodate them,” Maker said, though he noted that CCTS didn’t receive very many television-related complaints since the organization only began hearing them on Sept. 1.

With files from Brian Jackson.

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