CRTC introduces new code to make sure TV providers treat customers right

After hearing from many Canadians about their frustrations with their TV provider, the CRTC has introduced a new code for cable companies that will take effect Sept. 1.

On that date, consumers will be able, for the first time, to take unresolved complaints about their TV provider to an independent watchdog that will help resolve the dispute. Television providers will also have to more clearly set out information about their products and pricing for customers.

The code will be administered by the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS), the watchdog that will also take on customer complaints.

According to the code, starting Sept. 1, television service providers must:

  • Provide customers with a summary and a copy of their contract agreement, which includes the channels or packages they subscribe to, their monthly fees, the length of their contract and how to file a complaint.
  • Clearly set out the details of promotional offers, including the regular price once any discount ends, and any stipulations such as a minimum commitment period.
  • Provide customers with 30 days’ notice of price changes.

TV complaints outnumber all others

“Canadians will be more empowered in their relationships with television service providers,” said the CRTC in a statement.

The code follows numerous complaints from Canadians about the $25 basic TV package the CRTC mandated cable companies start offering last year. Many customers complained that added fees for things like equipment rentals made the basic package too expensive.

The CCTS previously handled only telecommunications complaints such as phone and internet services. But it was clear customers needed somewhere to take their beefs about TV providers. In March, the CCTS reported that it received more gripes about television service compared to all other telecom services put together, even though it wasn’t taking on TV complaints at the time.

There’s no charge for customers to file a complaint with the CCTS — their provider foots the bill. All they have to do is fill out an online complaints form. The CCTS will only take on TV service issues that happen on or after Sept. 1. 

“This is a big step forward for consumers,” said CCTS commissioner Howard Maker in a statement about taking on television complaints. 

“Given the large number of Canadians that subscribe to a telecom service and a TV service, often in a bundle from the same provider, this makes very good sense.”

Will customers use CCTS?

The CCTS is funded by the telecom industry but is required to act independently in solving disputes between companies and their customers over things like billing errors, service interruptions and other contract disputes.

It remains to be seen, however, if Canadians with TV service beefs actually take unresolved complaints to the independent watchdog.

A recent CCTS-commissioned survey found that only 20 per cent of respondents had even heard of the CCTS, and some of them weren’t sure what it actually did.

In January, the CCTS pointed the blame for lack of awareness at telecom providers who weren’t spreading the word about the commission.

The companies are supposed to inform Canadians about the organization on their website and four times a year on a customer’s monthly bill. The telecoms must also remind customers about the CCTS once their complaint escalates to a certain level within the company.

In 2015, the organization tried to survey 133 providers to see if they were fulfilling their promotional obligations. Only 47 of them responded.  

Of those that did, the CCTS “found a significant degree of non-compliance, a matter that concerns us a great deal,” said spokeswoman Josée Thibault in an email to CBC News.

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