British Columbia continues to work towards developing consumer protections around cellphone contracts, releasing a consumer survey that describes numerous problems just weeks after Ontario’s legislation was repealed.
Earlier this year, British Columbia announced it was responding to consumer dissatisfaction with cellphone billings and contracts and planned to strengthen consumer protection. On November 19, it released the next phase of that legislative development, the summary of a survey of 15,549 consumers.
Just six weeks earlier, Ontario’s Wireless Services Agreement Act was repealed and the two regulations made under it were revoked. Ontario’s legislation was implemented under the Liberal government in 2014, but repealed under the Progressive Conservative government in 2018, going out of effect in October 2019. At the time of the announcement, Ontario representatives said the provincial act had been superseded by federal regulations which provide nearly identical protections.
Based on the survey results, B.C. consumers found those protections lacking. While noting the existence of the federal Wireless Code and Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) complaints, the summary report included six key findings. Among them:
• Only 22% of respondents found their contract was easy to understand and only 36% found their bill easy to understand.
• Nearly three-quarters (71%) of respondents have had an issue with a contract or bill. Almost all (96%) of complaints were initiated with their provider, and only 22% of those customers were satisfied by the result.
• Only 6% of respondents agreed the cost of their cellphone service is reasonable
• Only 12% were aware of CCTS and just 8% were aware of the Wireless Code
The Wireless Code was established by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 2013, and updated in 2017. It provides consumers with rights such as plain language contracts, 15-day trial periods, maximum two-year contracts and caps on overage and roaming charges.
Created by the CRTC in 2007, the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS) is responsible for resolving complaints from Canadian consumers and small business retail customers regarding wireless services.
General provincial consumer protection laws may offer consumers some additional protections. Most provinces track and report consumer complaints, and share this information with the public, each other and the federal ministry to which the CRTC reports, Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada. The Canadian Consumer Handbook provides links to provincial consumer ministries.
Canadian consumer complaints about their telecommunications services continue to rise, according to the annual report of the industry’s dispute resolution service.
The Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS) reported a 35% increase in consumer complaints over the 12 months ending July 31, 2019 compared to the previous year. CCTS was created in 2007 by the CRTC to resolve complaints from Canadian consumers.
Wireless services are the largest component of the more than 19,000 complaints received. Billing-related issues (45%) and contract disputes (43%) are the most common issue of the cases that reached the CCTS. Internet complaints are the next most common, with billing again the most common type of complaint. The CCTS also deals with television and telephone (both long-distance and local) complaints.
The CCTS said it was able to “successfully resolve” 91% of complaints. The report defines this as including the satisfaction of both the customer and the participating service provider.
Results from a survey of British Columbia cellphone customers released earlier this month provide a much different view of consumer satisfaction in disputes. The B.C. results show that consumers who launched a dispute were generally unsatisfied with the resolution. Though consumers who filed a complaint through CCTS had the highest satisfaction rates in the survey, just 36% were satisfied. Moreover, only 3% of complaints reached the CCTS. More frequently, customers contacted the provider or went through an arbitration process but those avenues provided lower satisfaction rates (22% and 11% respectively). Just 12% of consumers in the BC survey were familiar with the CCTS complaint process.
Television complaint issues showed the highest rate of growth in the CCTS report, but August 2018 to July 2019 was the first full year of dealing with television complaints.
The report also noted CCTS involvement in the CRTC discussions that led to the establishment of the new Internet Code that CCTS will begin to administer in January 2020. It also contributed to CRTC hearings on sales practices of large telecom service providers, which led to a report on misleading and aggressive sales practices.
Figures for 2019-20 will also reflect another significant market change. Ontario’s Wireless Services Agreement Act was repealed, effective October 2019. At the time of that announcement in 2018, Ontario representatives said the provincial act had been superseded by federal regulations which provided nearly identical protections, and directed consumers to the CCTS services.
CCTS is funded by all participating telecom and TV service providers as required by Canada’s telecommunications and broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Complaints that are accepted by CCTS are forwarded to the service provider with a 30-day response expected. Many complaints are resolved informally when the provider responds, but CCTS will launch investigations and sometimes mediate the disputes. They may recommend service providers make a payment to the customer to compensate for any loss, damage or inconvenience suffered by the customer, up to a maximum of $5,000.
Two of the four 'independent' directors and total of seven directors of CCTS are nominated by consumer groups. Three of the seven directors are industry representatives.
Why do People Fail to Act on Financial Plans, the first published report by the Behaviourally Informed Organizations partnership, takes a behavioural approach to help financial planners address two common issues that prevent Canadians from proper financial planning.
The report identifies two gaps, an inaction gap that keeps some from planning at all and an implementation gap that prevents those who have written plans from implementing them.
The BI-Org partnership includes 18 partner organizations, including the Consumers Council of Canada. The report was produced by the Behavioural Economics in Action Research Centre at the Rotman School (BEAR) at the University of Toronto.
The report presents a number of immediate benefits. It’s attractively designed, not too long with a 30-page “powerpoint-style” presentation format, and well-organized.
The report’s diagnosis and discussion of consumer types and forces that keep them from implementing plans is somewhat intuitive. Financial planners who have been in the practice for any length of time have likely experienced many of those behaviours, and may have altered their own approaches. They may not call them “naive intenders” but they almost certainly have encountered customers who are persuaded to plan but “simply need help in making things happen.” Planners may already have found approaches to turn those intentions into action.
Less intuitive will be the report’s components on the different approaches the planners need to adopt to improve results. The report poses a number of rhetorical questions. On choice architecture: “How do I embed positive choice architecture in the ongoing communication? Specifically, how can I frame my messages to elicit action?” On packaging the plan: “Should the plan be a consolidated detailed plan versus a collection of short-term brief plans?” On timing: “When is the right time to remind the client?”
The report doesn’t provide answers to those questions, which leaves it for the planner to develop. It also directs firms to consider working with behavioural experts. “We also encourage interested organizations to ‘start small’ in their interventions, relentlessly test, learn and adapt their ideas and build out experimentation capabilities over time.”
That will certainly test an industry where growth often comes from more immediate measures such as new products to sell, and new services to provide.
The report that focuses on implementation gaps and behavioural approaches of consumers may be challenged by the implementation gap it leaves for planners.
Canadians still have trouble planning for their financial futures. Financial planners across the nation find getting people interested in drafting plans – and then getting clients to act on those plans – are the two most significant barriers.
The report notes that there are two major “gaps” that lead to Canadians failing to implement financial plans. The first are the potential clients that would like to get plans but fail to do so. The report identifies five causes of this gap, from procrastination to the benefits being too abstract. The bulk of the report looks at the second gap, an “implementation gap” in which clients have written plans, but fail to act upon them. This gap has seven causes, many of which are similar to the causes of inaction, but also include overchoice and information complexity.
Clients typically fall into a number of categories. The report helps financial planners understand the behavioural foundations of these consumers, and uses relevant behavioural science to propose some recommendations to address the implementation gap. One category, “naive intenders”, do not need additional education or evidence, for example. They simply need help making things happen.
The Behaviourally Informed Organizations (BI-Org) partnership also released Seeing Sludge, a separate report on context variables that impede rather than facilitate consumers.
Consumer desire to reduce waste and improvise recycling clashes with safety requirements on refilling smaller propane canisters.
Small propane canisters commonly used to fuel camping stoves and lanterns - known as one-pounders – are generally not refillable. Yet it is easy to find internet retailers who can provide adapters that claim to safely allow for the transfer of propane from larger barbecue containers to the empty camping containers. It’s easy to see the appeal for campers looking to reduce the waste generated by multiple empty metal containers at the end of a camping trip. The adapters can be purchased for $20 or less. There are numerous instructional videos, as well as web sites and message boards that extol how easy and smart it is.
But it’s not legal in Ontario, for a number of safety reasons. Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority issued numerous safety alert bulletins noting that the adaptors designed to complete transfers into smaller, non-refillable cylinders are illegal under the Propane Storage and Handling Code. This is because of the public safety risks posed by fires, explosions and burn hazards. As a result the adaptors cannot be sold in stores.
Propane cylinders must be filled by weight or volume at a TSSA-licensed facility, and Specification 39 canisters (the one-pound camping propane bottles) cannot be refilled at all. More details on the TSSA bulletin are available here.
Ontario campsites have large containers to collect the empty canisters, which are later vented, crushed and recycled.
The TSSA is responsible for promoting and enforcing public safety in Ontario. The Technical Standards and Safety Act regulations apply to three key sectors:
1. Boilers and pressure vessels and operating engineers
2. Elevating devices, amusement devices and ski lifts