The Government of Canada has ordered the federal telecom regulator to investigate Canada’s largest telecommunications companies for high-pressure sales tactics, demanding a public inquiry into the issue after a series of media reports revealed questionable practices.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains announced Thursday that it directed the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to investigate and report on sales practices in light of serious concerns over misleading or aggressive sales tactics.
Earlier this year, the CRTC refused a consumer group’s request to hold such an inquiry after a The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation investigation raised questions about sales practices at BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. In the February letter denying the request, CRTC chairman Ian Scott said Canadians could use “well-established and effective mechanisms to resolve issues with their communications services providers.”
But the federal government is stepping in to reverse that decision. In a news release, the ministry stated it wants to ensure consumers are treated fairly and directed the CRTC to report on potential solutions to protect consumers.
“Like many Canadians, we are concerned by allegations of clearly inappropriate sales practices by telecom carriers,” Bains said in a statement.
“I have directed the CRTC to thoroughly investigate this matter. No Canadian should ever be misled or treated unfairly by a telecom corporation, especially those who are most vulnerable.”
The CRTC must complete the report by the end of February 2019.
The government noted that 900 people, including 200 current and former telecom employees, contacted the CBC with accounts of “illegitimate” sales practices. It noted that the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services reported an increase in complaints in its mid-year report released in April.
It also drew attention to two characteristics of Canada’s communications landscape: one, many services are bundled, and two, it is highly concentrated.
Approximately 10 million Canadians buy bundled services, according to the CRTC. Typically, providers offer deals for people who buy internet, television and landline services.
The top five ownership groups account for 83 per cent of revenue in the communications sector, according to the CRTC’s 2017 annual report on the industry. Those groups are Bell, Rogers, Telus Corp., Quebecor Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc. and Corus Entertainment Inc. The CRTC combines Shaw and Corus. They are separate entities, but both are controlled by the Shaw family.