CRTC's new Internet Code 'falls short' for some consumer advocates

A sign stands in front of Rogers Communications Inc. building. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
A sign stands in front of Rogers Communications Inc. building. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has announced Canadians will be protected by a new code of conduct for Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The new Internet Code comes into effect on January 31, 2020 and will provide “additional safeguards” against billing disputes, which will be administered by the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS).

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“During our consultations, many Canadians told us about the challenges they face with their Internet service providers, including unclear agreements, unanticipated price increases and inconsistencies between offers and their bills,” Ian Scott, chairperson and CEO of the CRTC said in a statement.

According to the release from the Commission, the new code will enforce “easier-to-understand” documentation that outlines policies for service outages and clearer information about pricing and promotions, including limited-time offers.

Other items in the Internet Code include:

  • Customers will be able to cancel a contract within 45 days, without having to pay any cancellation fees, if the contract differs from the offer

  • Service providers will have to notify customers who approach 75 per cent, 90 per cent and 100 per cent of their data-usage limit within a one monthly billing cycle

  • ISPs cannot charge for any device or service that the account holder or authorized user has not expressly purchased

  • Customers must receive a copy of their contract within 15 calendar days if a paper copy is requested, or within one business for the electronic documents

  • For an ISP to change key contract terms during a commitment period, it must provide the account holder at least 60 calendar days’ notice and they cannot be changed without the account holder’s or authorized user’s informed and express consent

  • If a service provider applies overage fees, it must offer tools, at no charge, to help a customer monitor and manage their data usage

  • If a customer cancels a contract before the end of the commitment period, the service provider can only charge the customer the early cancellation fee

“With the new Internet Code, we are closing the gap and providing Canadians with protections for the Internet, wireless and TV services in their bundle,” Scott said.

“The new Code will empower customers and make it easier for them to take advantage of competitive offers.”

The Internet Code will apply to the following ISPs: Bell Canada, Rogers Communications, TELUS, Cogeco, SaskTel, Videotron, Eastlink, Shaw Telecom, Xplornet and Northwestel.

Consultation for this new code began in November 2018 and while they were occurring, a report released in February by the Commission found that Canadians are falling victim to “misleading” and “aggressive retail practices from service providers.

“Canadians experience misleading or aggressive sales practices to an unacceptable degree,” the report states.

“The effects of these practices are harmful to Canadian consumers, in particular those who may be vulnerable due to their age, a disability, or a language barrier. This is a problem of serious concern to the CRTC.”

The president & CEO of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, Byron Holland, responded to the announcement and called the implementation of this code a “first step” for the CRTC.

“Internet customers deserve to know what they’re getting for their money, so we hope this new code of conduct will make their contracts easier to understand,” the statement on Twitter read.

Internet Code ‘falls short’

Following the announcement, consumer advocacy group Open Media responded saying they are “disappointed” in the CRTC’s the new code.

“While this is definitely a step in the right direction, the CRTC’s new Internet Code does not go far enough to truly protect customers from the systemically broken, predatory behaviour of Canada’s largest Internet service providers,” OpenMedia’s executive director, Laura Tribe said in a statement.

“What we need are penalties strong enough to scare Big Telecom into behaving better – and as it stands, the Internet Code does nothing but incentivize more of the status quo.”

In a 2017-2018 annual report, the CCTS found that there was a 56 per cent increase in internet-related complaints from Canadians over the previous year.

“By not addressing the well-known systemic problems, including aggressive and misleading sales practices, and without any significant enforcement mechanisms to discourage bad behaviour, it’s hard to see what change this Code will actually bring to the retail space, where customers continue to be mistreated day in and day out,” Tribe said.

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