A CRTC logo is shown in Montreal, Monday, September 10, 2012. Canada’s federal telecommunications regulator is being asked to hold a public enquiry into the sales practices of the country’s major communications service providers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

CRTC urged to hold public inquiry into telecom industry’s sales tactics

TORONTO — The CRTC is being urged to hold a public inquiry into the sales practices of the country’s major telecommunications service providers.

The formal request to the federal regulator comes from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, an Ottawa-based non-profit group that often battles with Canada’s major telecommunications service providers.

PIAC executive director John Lawford on Monday called for CRTC chairman Ian Scott to investigate recent media reports about high-pressure sales tactics used by least one major company.

“Many of these aggressive sales practices appear to have targeted vulnerable consumers, including older Canadians, grieving spouses and blind customers,” Lawford writes.

His letter refers to a CBC news investigation in November that began with allegations by Andrea Rizzo, a Bell call centre employee in Toronto who said she was under intense pressure to make a sale on every call.

The CBC reported later that it had received emails from dozens of Bell customers with various complaints and that a “flood” of Bell employees, past and present, had followed Rizzo’s lead in speaking out about the stress they felt from pressure to meet sales targets.

At the time, Bell Canada’s spokesman told the CBC that it succeeds in a highly competitive marketplace by serving its 23 million customers well. He also said the tactics described by current and former Bell employees would be “completely contrary” to the company’s culture, values and code of conduct.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, headquartered in the Ottawa area, acknowledged receiving PIAC’s letter but offered no further comment Monday.

Bell, Rogers and Telus were asked for their reaction to the PIAC letter but no comments had been received as of mid-afternoon Monday.

Lawford, whose organization takes a pro-consumer stance on a number of issues, acknowledged in an interview that the allegations against Bell haven’t been proven in court, adding that’s why the CRTC needs to step in.

“Anecdotally, we’ve had complaints from customers that this is happening at other companies,” Lawford said.

He said that the CRTC would be able to provide a transparent forum to hear both the allegations and rebuttals.

“And they have the power, in their statute, to do things like this. And they have done it before,” Lawford said in an interview.

He pointed to the recently updated code of conduct for the Canadian wireless telecommunications providers, which went into effect on Dec. 1 after the CRTC spent months collecting submissions from various parties.

He also said that non-disclosure of terms and misleading information about terms accounted for 10.9 per cent of complaints received by the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services, another federal agency that works with the CRTC and oversees the wireless code.

Lawford said an industry-wide inquiry into telecommunications services would serve a similar role as a probe into banking sales practices that’s being conducted by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

The FCAC probe was launched last year after another series of CBC articles, beginning with allegations about sales practices at TD Bank (TSX:TD) that later included all of Canada’s major banks. The federal agency said last month that it expects to release its report during the first quarter of this year.

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