2019 Compliance Monitoring Report

Table of Contents

 

 

I. About the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services

Founded in 2007, the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (“CCTS”) is Canada’s national and independent organization dedicated to resolving customer complaints involving wireless, internet, phone and subscription TV services, after direct communications between a customer and their service provider have proven ineffective. The CCTS provides a free, independent and impartial service to customers of approximately 273 service providers, represented by 384 customer-facing brands (referred to as Participating Service Providers or “PSPs”)[1]. The CCTS reports on these activities twice a year – Annual and Mid-Year Reports can be found here.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which regulates and supervises Canadian telecommunications and broadcasting, reviews and approves the CCTS structure and mandate. All telecommunications service providers, and all large TV service providers and their affiliates, must participate in, and fund, the CCTS.

When a service provider is not already a participant of the CCTS, there are two circumstances which trigger the CRTC’s regulatory requirement to sign up:

  • for telecommunications service providers, when a customer complains, and
  • for licensed TV service providers, when mandated to do so by the CRTC.

We also receive requests from some service providers who wish to participate in the CCTS voluntarily.

When a service provider fails to become a participant in the CCTS when required to do so, we refer these providers to the CRTC for further action. The CRTC uses various methods to communicate with the service provider and have them sign up for participation. This includes engaging in enforcement activities such as initiating a proceeding against the service provider that requires the service provider to demonstrate why it should not be found in violation of the Telecommunications Act or the Broadcasting Act for contravening the CCTS participation requirement.

In 2019, out of 34 telecommunications or TV service providers that were required to join the CCTS, three failed to do so and were referred to the CRTC: eTor Networks, Flow Teknologies Canada Inc., and Total Cable Services Inc. By comparison, in 2018 the CCTS referred 13 providers to the CRTC after they failed to join the CCTS. Ten of those providers are now participants in the CCTS or in the process of becoming one.  The remaining three have been named in CRTC proceedings and the CRTC decisions are pending[2].

 

II. About the CCTS’ Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement Program

To ensure the CCTS can provide free and effective service to customers when they need it, PSPs must comply with a range of requirements. These obligations include:

  • Complying with the CCTS Procedural Code, which contains rules for the CCTS’ complaint handling process
  • Carrying out the CCTS Public Awareness Plan
  • Disclosing financial information and paying CCTS fees.

The CCTS actively monitors compliance with these requirements and engages with non-compliant PSPs to ensure they come into compliance. When PSPs continue to be non-compliant, the CCTS has a range of enforcement tools that include publicly naming those PSPs, and ultimately the authority to expel them. Expulsion triggers a referral to the CRTC for further action, because it is a regulatory requirement for these service providers to participate in the CCTS.

This report provides information about the results of CCTS’ 2019 compliance monitoring and enforcement activities, highlighting the main areas of PSP non-compliance. This report includes data from November 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019, unless otherwise indicated.

 

III. Requirements, Monitoring Activities and Results

1. Compliance with the CCTS’ Complaint Handling Process

A. Requirements

PSPs are required to comply with CCTS’ complaint handling process in good faith, a requirement that is set out in the Participation Agreement that all PSPs must sign. This means that PSPs are expected not to interfere with the CCTS’ complaint handling process, such as trying to get customers to give up their complaint by asking them to withdraw it, or threatening to charge a fee or sue them as a direct result of their CCTS complaint.

The CCTS Procedural Code contains specific requirements to which all PSPs must adhere throughout  the CCTS’ complaint handling process. Specifically, PSPs are required to:

  • Provide the CCTS with relevant information and documentation at various stages during the complaint handling process. These requirements are outlined in different sections of the CCTS’ Procedural Code and encompass various types of issues the CCTS may face with PSP responses, such as no response at all, or a response lacking supporting documentation.
  • Refrain from collections activity on disputed charges during the course of a complaint at the CCTS. Collections activity includes trying to collect the disputed amount (either directly or through a collections agency), credit reporting or suspension of services for non-payment[3].
  • Implement agreed-upon resolutions, and CCTS-issued Recommendations and Decisions.

CCTS monitors compliance with the CCTS Procedural Code for all PSPs at all times, and the CCTS’ complaint handling staff flag non-compliance they encounter while working on the complaints.

B. Monitoring activities and results

Introduction

Between November 1, 2018 and December 31, 2019, CCTS flagged approximately 2,700 alleged compliance breaches of the Procedural Code arising in approximately 21,300 complaints. These alleged breaches were added by the CCTS staff during the complaint handling process.  For compliance purposes, PSPs do not have the opportunity to respond to these alleged breaches when added, unless the compliance team specifically follows up with the PSP about the compliance issue(s) flagged in the complaint.

The CCTS reports on the general trends of non-compliance based on what our employees see when they handle complaints.  This way, PSPs can keep informed on these trends take steps to remedy them. However, if the CCTS identifies a major compliance problem, such as a PSP failing to implement a Recommendation, we reach out directly to the PSP to clarify expectations and to provide guidance on what is required to come into compliance. Further engagement with the PSP will take place if monitoring results do not show improvement.

Consequently, this report contains two types of data:

  • general trends that have been observed in the alleged breaches; and
  • instances of major non-compliance by specific PSPs. Where this report identifies a specific PSP, CCTS staff has reviewed the alleged breaches and confirmed that the PSP is not complying. This is often completed by reviewing the history of a complaint and other documentation.

In 2019, the CCTS observed the following trends, discussed in detail below:

  1. PSPs improperly responding to complaints.
  2. PSPs failing to implement resolutions, recommendations and decisions.
  3. PSPs not participating in good faith in the CCTS’ complaint handling process, with approximately 20 alleged breaches (four of which CCTS was able to confirm).

1. PSPs improperly responding to a complaint[4]

After CCTS accepts a complaint, the PSP must respond to it. Specifically, once the CCTS accepts a complaint, PSPs are required to provide the CCTS and the customer a formal written response indicating whether (i) it objects to the CCTS accepting the complaint because it is out of the CCTS’ mandate (“objections”), (ii) the complaint remains unresolved (“Unresolved” responses); or (iii) the complaint is resolved to the satisfaction of both parties (“Resolved” responses). Objections must be made within 15 days. Resolved and Unresolved responses must be made within 30 days. The CCTS identified compliance issues for each of these responses.

542 improper “Objections” (approximately 20% of all alleged compliance breaches), relating to 50 PSPs. PSPs can object to a complaint when they believe that the CCTS should not investigate it for one of the reasons set out in the CCTS Procedural Code[5]. In doing so, the PSP must explain the reason for the objection. This compliance breach is added when PSPs explain their objection with merit-based reasons (i.e. saying they fulfilled their obligations and the complaint is without merit) instead of one of the procedural reasons found in the CCTS Procedural Code (for example, that the service in question is out of scope). Objections to complaints based on their merit will be rejected as the merits of the complaint can only be assessed during the investigation should the complaint get to that stage of the process.

931 incomplete responses to “Unresolved” complaints (approximately 34% of all alleged compliance breaches), relating to 113 PSPs. When submitting an “Unresolved” response PSPs are expected to “provide a full and complete written response” along with the documents needed to fully investigate the complaint[6]. This compliance breach is generally added when a response is provided, but without all supporting documentation required.

This breach also includes instances in which PSPs do not submit any response within the 30-day period, causing the complaint to be automatically treated as unresolved and escalated to the investigation stage. In 2019, this occurred in 390 complaints. A full review on this issue is found in Appendix A.

During the latter part of 2019, the CCTS also noted an issue with some PSPs’ “Resolved” responses[7].  In these cases, the PSPs informed CCTS that the complaints had been resolved, when they actually remained unresolved. This is considered a major non-compliance issue because of the potential consequences on complainants and the CCTS process. When a PSP submits a “Resolved” response to a complaint that is not actually resolved, the customer must contact the CCTS to indicate that their complaint is not resolved. Without a follow-up from the customer, the complaint will be closed 20 days after the CCTS received the PSP’s “Resolved” response. Some customers mistakenly believed that the CCTS communicating their PSP’s “Resolved” response was the end of the process, or the customers did not respond in a timely manner.

In September 2019, the CCTS noted that Bell Canada submitted “Resolved” responses when the complaint clearly had not been resolved to the satisfaction of the customer, with a frequency disproportionate in comparison to other PSPs[8]. Bell Canada complaints constituted approximately 55% of all complaints for which “Resolved” responses were submitted and the customer indicated that the complaint was in fact not resolved to their satisfaction. Given that Bell Canada had a disproportionately higher number of breaches in this area, the CCTS focused its attention on working with Bell to address this problem. The CCTS met with Bell to explain what is expected in “Resolved” responses and to discuss particular case responses and why the CCTS identified these responses as problematic. This education and communication resulted in reducing the frequency of this issue for Bell.

The CCTS also noted this issue among other PSPs, albeit less frequently. The CCTS reviewed the individual complaints affected and engaged with other PSPs to clarify the requirements for submitting a “Resolved” response. Subsequently, the CCTS started monitoring “Resolved” responses for additional PSPs, which will continue into 2020.

2. PSPs failing to implement agreed-upon resolutions and CCTS’ Recommendations and Decisions[9]

The CCTS Procedural Code requires PSPs to implement:

  • Remedies they agree to provide when informally resolving a complaint through CCTS’ complaint handling process;
  • Recommendations made by the CCTS that both the PSP and customer have accepted; and
  • Decisions made by the CCTS and accepted by a customer[10].

Failure to implement resolutions, Recommendations, and Decisions deprives customers of the remedies to which they are entitled, and undermines the CCTS’ resolution process. When a customer informs the CCTS that their PSP has failed to implement any of these outcomes, the CCTS considers it a major issue of non-compliance and will intervene to remedy the situation.

If a customer informs the CCTS that the PSP has not implemented the required remedy within a reasonable time following the conclusion of the case, the CCTS will contact the PSP to insist that the remedy be implemented and that the PSP provide documentation confirming that it has been done. In 2019, the CCTS confirmed issues in 58 complaints relating to 20 PSPs[11]:

  • In 50 complaints, the PSP implemented the resolution after the CCTS intervention. In order to confirm the implementation of a resolution, the CCTS requested an updated response from the PSP and asked for documentation showing that it has been implemented.
  • In 6 complaints, the CCTS re-opened the complaint as a result of the non-implementation, and the complaint handling process resumed until the complaint could be concluded again in accordance with the regular CCTS process.
  • In 1 complaint, Pulse Telecom failed to implement a Recommendation despite numerous contact attempts. The CCTS looked into the matter and concluded that Pulse Telecom was no longer operating.  Pulse Telecom was expelled from the CCTS on July 2, 2019.
  • In 1 complaint, Téliphone failed to implement a Recommendation despite numerous contact attempts. The CCTS is currently investigating whether Téliphone is still providing telecommunications services to Canadians. The matter is ongoing.

3. PSPs not participating in good faith in the CCTS’ Complaint Handing Process

The CCTS monitors instances in which a PSP may be found to act in a way that does not show good faith in the CCTS’ complaint handling process. This section discusses the 20 alleged breaches that were identified by the CCTS in 2019.

The CCTS tracks instances in which a PSP threatens to charge a fee to a customer, or to sue them, for having filed a complaint with the CCTS. These cases are considered a major non-compliance issue, and the CCTS engages the PSP to ensure that the threats stop.

In 2019, this occurred in 2 complaints:

  • In the first complaint, the CCTS engaged with Velcom after it threatened to sue a customer for filing a complaint with the CCTS. The PSP apologized, confirming that it would not sue the customer over their complaint. The complaint was concluded after going through the regular CCTS process.
  • In the second complaint, the CCTS followed up with Tel-Synergy after it threatened to sue a customer if the CCTS billed it for the complaint, knowing that complaints accepted by CCTS result in a fee to the PSP. After detailed explanations of the CCTS process and that penalizing the customer for their complaint is not permitted, the PSP was able to resolve the issue informally with the customer and the complaint was concluded in keeping with the regular CCTS process.

The CCTS tracks instances in which a customer alleges that a PSP asked or pressured them to withdraw their complaint. For example, a PSP may request that a customer withdraw their complaint at the CCTS as a condition of applying a credit on their account to resolve the matter.

When the CCTS learns that a PSP is asking the customer to withdraw their complaint as a condition of the PSP resolving the complaint, the CCTS will inform the customer of their right to continue the CCTS process and explains the risks of withdrawing their complaint.

In 2019, the CCTS flagged 18 instances of customers alleging that their PSP asked them to withdraw their complaint.  In 2 of these complaints, the CCTS was able to confirm through customer-provided documentation that Maskatel and RuralWave had asked them to withdraw their complaint as a condition to resolution.

  • In the remaining 16 of these complaints, customers chose to continue with their CCTS complaint:
    • 6 complaints were informally resolved at the pre-investigation stage.
    • 10 complaints moved up to the investigation level after the issue was noted, and were concluded at that stage.
  • In 2 of these complaints, the customer decided to withdraw their complaint after CCTS explained that by doing so the customer would not be able to re-file the complaint.

2. Carrying out the Public Awareness Plan

A. Requirements

For the CCTS to be able to help Canadians, customers must first be aware of their right to escalate their dispute to the CCTS when their attempts to resolve their problem directly with their service provider have proven ineffective. Therefore, all PSPs must comply with the CCTS’ public awareness plan entitled “Developing Public Awareness of the CCTS” (the “PA Plan”), which outlines requirements in 4 categories.

1 – CCTS notice and web site links on PSPs’ websites

PSPs must display a specific message on their website informing customers of the CCTS, including information on how to contact them.  This information should be on a dedicated “complaints page” detailing the PSP’s internal complaint handling process. Additionally, the path to this complaints page must be clearly-labelled, easy-to-find and no further than 2 clicks away from the home page.

Further, if a website has a search function, it should return a link to the complaints page when a search includes any of the following keywords: “complaint”, “dispute”, “CRTC”, “CCTS”, “commission” and “ombudsman”.

2 – Customer bill messages

PSPs must include a specific message about the CCTS on customer bills. This message has to appear at least four times a year and be placed in a reasonably prominent location compared to other notices of a similar nature. Customers who do not receive bills must be informed about the CCTS by another means, such as the portal they use to purchase pre-paid time or through free text messages.

In addition, the CRTC expects PSPs that have updated their billing system since January 2011 to include a “permanent and prominent location for a standard notification about CCTS” on the PSP’s bills. The CCTS has incorporated this requirement into the PA Plan.

3 – Customer notification by PSPs

PSPs must inform customers of their right of recourse to the CCTS upon failure to resolve their complaint at the second level of escalation. This means that if the second escalation agent fails to resolve the issue, they must inform the customer of the CCTS.

For PSPs which do not have an internal escalation process, customers must be informed of the CCTS by frontline agents.

Multiple contacts with different frontline agents are not considered an escalation.

4 – White Pages message and text

PSPs that publish White Pages directories must include a specific message about the CCTS in the White Pages. The location of this insert should be reasonably prominent compared to notices of a similar nature. Additionally, it should be placed in a logical manner, where a customer with a potential complaint is likely to find it.

 

B. Monitoring Activities and Results

In its second year of actively monitoring compliance, the CCTS extended its monitoring to cover a wider range of service providers, from the major PSPs providing services in several provinces to smaller PSPs providing services locally.

The CCTS undertakes two types of PA Plan monitoring activities:

  1. Full PA Plan audits. The CCTS conducted full PA Plan compliance reviews for the 25 PSPs that had the most complaints received by the CCTS in the preceding year. These PSPs represent approximately 94% of all accepted complaints at the CCTS.
  2. Website audits for PSPs that were identified as non-compliant with CCTS requirements. The CCTS reviewed compliance of 64 other PSPs with the PA Plan requirements in regards to the information available on their website to ensure that customers of all PSPs, regardless of their size, have access to information about the CCTS.

 

Full PA Plan Compliance Review Results

The CCTS conducts a full audit of each requirement in the PA Plan for the 25 PSPs that generated the most CCTS complaints in 2019 by reviewing the PSP’s website and requesting documentation from the PSP. The documents requested range from invoices with the CCTS message to information about the PSP’s complaint handling process. This section describes the main issues we identified[12]. For the full results per section of the PA Plan, please see Appendix B.

Most PSPs complaint handling processes include informing their customers about the CCTS[13]. Only 3 of the 25 PSPs were non-compliant with this requirement, either because some of their processes do not currently include informing customers of the CCTS in a way that meets the requirements of the PA Plan, or because they were unable to demonstrate it during the audit process.

Most PSPs can improve how the CCTS information is displayed on their website[14]. Only 3 of the 25 PSPs did not have the required information about the CCTS on their complaints page. However, the main compliance issue was the way the information about the CCTS is accessible.  Multiple PSPs had websites that were considered non-compliant, either because of issues with the path to the complaints page (12 non-compliant PSPs) or their search function failing to return a link to the complaints page when the required keywords were entered (11 non-compliant PSPs).

The bill notice is present, but the message itself requires updating[15]. While all PSPs were ultimately able to show that their bills include a CCTS bill notice four times yearly, 9 of the 25 do not use the prescribed messaging required by the PA Plan. This included failing to reference all in-scope services and the fact that the CCTS provides services to customers free of charge.

After completing the audit of each PSP’s website and documentation, the CCTS engaged with non-compliant PSPs on an individual basis to discuss the results. PSPs that were not compliant with an aspect of the PA Plan were required to provide the CCTS with a schedule to implement changes to come into compliance, and documentation showing that the changes have been implemented. The CCTS has confirmed that all non-compliant PSPs have implemented the required changes to remedy the issues that were identified and are now compliant.

PA Plan – Website Review

The CCTS reviewed websites of 64 other PSPs to ensure that their customers have access to required information such as how the customer can contact the CCTS. The 64 PSPs were chosen because they had self-identified as non-compliant with the PA Plan requirements, or because CCTS staff identified them as non-compliant with other CCTS participation requirements (outlined in the CCTS’ Participation Agreement and Procedural Code).

Of the 64 PSPs that were selected, 6 did not have a website and therefore were not included in the assessment as the PA Plan requirements relates to their website. The remaining 58 PSPs were reviewed and assessed on complying with the website requirements outlined in the PA Plan.

Within these 58 PSPs, the CCTS identified the following main issues[16]:

  • Although most PSPs had CCTS information somewhere on their website (46 PSPs), 27 did not have this information available on their complaints page[17].
  • 24 of the PSPs did not have a complaints page that is clearly-labelled and easy to find[18].
  • Despite a majority of PSPs having CCTS information on their website, 25 failed to use the prescribed message[19].

The CCTS intends to continue and develop this monitoring activity for these other PSPs by conducting the PA Plan Audit on an annual basis to ensure that PSPs are making their customers aware of CCTS services and how to contact the CCTS if customers need to do so.

3. Disclosure of financial information and payment of CCTS fees

A. Requirements

In order to ensure fair and proportional funding of the CCTS, PSPs are required to provide certified financial information annually. When PSPs fail to provide this information or fail to pay their bills to the CCTS, it adds costs, which must be borne by all the other PSPs, and needlessly consumes CCTS resources. To ensure compliance with financial obligations, the CCTS monitors whether PSPs have complied with the following requirements:

  • Disclosure of financial information
  • Payment of CCTS fees

 

B. Monitoring activities and results

Disclosure of financial information[20]

In 2019, 229 out of 273 service providers complied with the requirements to provide us with financial information. See Appendix E for the full list of non-compliant PSPs.

Payment of CCTS fees[21]

The CCTS bills PSPs on a quarterly basis, and they are required to pay their fees promptly. PSPs owing more than $1,000 for over 90 days are referred to a third party collection agency. As of December 31, 2019, 9 service providers owe fees that qualify for collection activity, as listed in Appendix E.

 

>IV. Conclusion

2019 was the first full year of the CCTS Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement Program. Our monitoring revealed that while some of the issues identified last year still required further work, and new issues have arisen, most PSPs are willing to discuss their compliance status and work with us to address these problems.

The CCTS intends to address both ongoing and new issues by working cooperatively with PSPs to ensure a shared understanding of the participation requirements and discuss any potential disagreements. As we have been able to extend our monitoring activities in 2019, we will continue to identify important compliance information to report on while addressing a larger range of issues on a continuous basis.

Footnotes

[1] As of December 31, 2019.

[2] CRTC proceeding information can be found at: https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2019/2019-363.htm and https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2020/2020-89.htm

[3] Non-exhaustive list.

[4] Procedural Code Sections 6.6.

[5] Procedural Code Section 6.6(a).

[6] Procedural Code Section 6.6(c).

[7] Procedural Code Section 6.6(b).

[8] The CCTS data presented for this specific issue is from September 23, 2019. This is a point in time analysis and it provides the number of complaints that were active on that date.  This does not reflect the total number of complaints with this issue observed over the entire year.

[9] Procedural Code Sections 6.12, 12.6 and 13.3, respectively.

[10] Recommendation are issued when the CCTS determines that the PSP has not reasonably performed its obligations to the customer, and recommends a remedy that the PSP has refused to provide during the investigation process. If either the customer or the PSP rejects the Recommendation, they are asked to provide CCTS with their reasons, and CCTS reexamines the complaint and issues a Decision, which is binding on the PSP if the customer accepts it. Decisions are published on the CCTS website.

[11] Number of total implementation breaches by PSP: Bell Canada [24]; Rogers [4]; Virgin Mobile [3], Vonage [3], Cogeco (Quebec) [3]; Primus [3]; Telus [2]; Cogeco (Ontario) [2]; Freedom Mobile [2]; Fido [2]; ACN [1], Bravo Telecom [1], Bell Aliant [1], Maple Call [1], Videotron [1], Public Mobile [1], Xplornet [1], G3 Telecom [1], InnSys [1] and Teliphone [1]

[12] PSPs can be non-compliant with more than one requirement.

[13] Refer to Appendix B, 3

[14] Refer to Appendix B; 1.a, 1.b, 1.c

[15] Refer to Appendix B, 2.d

[16] See Appendix C for full results.

[17] Appendix C – 1.a

[18] Appendix C – 1.b

[19] Appendix C – 1.d

[20] The period covered for this information is January 1, 2019 – December 31, 2019.

[21] The period covered for this information is January 1, 2019 – December 31, 2019.