Small businesses part of the growing telecom complaints

When small businesses want to complain about their phone service, there is one organization that always has to listen.

After an “extensive review,” the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) got the renewed blessing of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) last week, continuing the commission’s commitment to small businesses looking for an advocate in the fight for telecommunication fairness.

Since 2007, the agency has worked to resolve disagreements between telecommunications companies and consumer and small businesses about billing problems, service issues, credit management, and unauthorized transfer of services. It can only settle a dispute once the consumer or small business has tried to resolve the problem with the telecom itself; the process is the same for consumers and small businesses alike.

Leonard Katz, CRTC vice-chairman of telecommunications, said in a CRTC release that an extensive review showed that the CCTS was making good progress in resolving consumer and small business complaints. “An independent agency like the CCTS is an essential intermediary in a market where competition is growing by the day and the majority of telecommunications services are no longer regulated.”

Telecom companies in Canada are also now required to join the agency. Previously, only companies with revenues over $10-million were required to join. Small businesses looking to see what sorts of complaints are on the rise can look forward to further transparency-the agency has also been asked to include more details in the annual report about the kinds of complaints submitted from consumers and small businesses.

Complaints have been on the rise, according to Howard Maker, the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services. “We’ve had to put the pedal to the metal, as the number of complaints has been increasing, so we’re busy,” he says.

Now that all telecoms have to join the agency, Maker says, “it levels the playing field-and small businesses are no different.” Consumer complaints still far outnumber complaints from small business (classified as businesses with telecom expenses under $2,500 per month), but these are on the rise along with consumer complaints. In the last fiscal year, small business complaints made up six per cent of the total number of complaints-245 to the 3,747 consumer complaints.

“The numbers indicate that the more dissatisfied side is the consumer side,” Maker says. “Even taking into account availability and awareness, they still significantly exceed [the small business numbers].”

Business complaints are along the same lines as the consumer ones since the CCTS only handles certain complaints. “Telecoms are essentially a contract-driven business, so it’s the same for both: terms of service, delivery, and billing. Those kinds of complaints are always an issue,” Maker says. (Larger businesses are exempt from the CCTS’ services because enterprise-level telecommunications contracts are more complex and structured differently, while small business contracts tend to be closer to a consumer set-up.)

The one problem that small businesses should be on the lookout for is long-distance toll fraud. Also known as “long distance hacking,” this issue was the biggest small business problem in CCTS’ history. In 2008/2009, the agency processed “a fair number” of complaints from small businesses about hackers that had hijacked the phone systems of their businesses to make thousands of dollars’ worth of overseas phonecalls.

These problems have virtually disappeared in recent years, according to Maker, because small businesses have shored up their telecom security post-breach and hackers subsequently move on to easier targets.

When it comes to raising awareness of the agency’s services for small businesses, Maker says that no special campaigns are being mounted. But he anticipates greater awareness of the commission among small businesses merely through the organization’s consumer campaigns. “Small businesses are made up of [consumers], really, so we’re targeting small businesses that way,” he says.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is also doing its part, he says, by referring any members with CCTS-mandated telecom issues to the agency as well.

Carriers are also required to advertise the CCTS on phone bills.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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