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‘I feel cheated’: Telco customer set to speak on Day 1 of CRTC hearing into misleading sales practices

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Shawn Ahmed says he knew he wanted to participate, as soon as he learned the CRTC asked to hear, in person, from consumers frustrated by their telecom service provider.

The federal telecom regulator is holding a five-day public hearing this week in Gatineau, Que., part of an inquiry into misleading and aggressive telco sales practices, ordered in June by the federal government.

“For the average consumer, this affects every one of us,” says Ahmed, a Rogers customer who outlined in his submission to the CRTC concerns that he was misled about price. 

“It might be the most important inquiry the CRTC hears for years to come.”

Over the course of the week, the CRTC is set to hear from 31 presenters. They range from telco customers such as Ahmed — scheduled to speak on Day 1 — to advocacy groups, researchers and the country’s three largest telecom service providers (Bell, Rogers and Telus).

The hearing is part of a months-long inquiry that received almost 1,300 submissions and was called by the federal minister for telecommunications after months of Go Public stories on the issue. 

OpenMedia, a consumer advocacy group pushing for affordable internet, submitted another 1,100 complaints from Canadians.

“I feel cheated by them’

Ahmed, 37, says that as a gay Muslim and social media activist, he has received death threats and has had to resort to worshipping online to protect his safety. He says the internet is not a luxury like cable TV, it’s crucial.

“For people on the margins, like the elderly, disabled or immigrants, we use it as a lifeline,” says Ahmed.

So when the Toronto man saw a billboard and Facebook ad for high speed internet with Rogers for $74.99 a month, he signed up last January.

“I trusted what I was told over the phone,” he says, but then three months later his Rogers bill increased. “I feel cheated by them.”

Telcos are allowed to raise internet, cable and home phone rates as long as they provide advance notice, but Ahmed says it’s unethical.

After filing a complaint with Rogers’ office of the president and the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS), Rogers credited his bill. 

Do your job. Protect Canadian consumers, not the telecommunications industry.– Shawn Ahmed, Rogers customer 

At the hearing, Ahmed says he will urge the CRTC to require all telcos to offer fixed prices for internet services.

“Do your job,” says Ahmed. “Protect Canadian consumers, not the telecommunications industry.”

Shawn Ahmed says he was misled on price. He wants the CRTC to make telcos stick to a set price in a contract, after his Rogers bill increased in the third month of a 12-month contract. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

77% want action from government

As part of the public inquiry into telecom sales practices, the CRTC commissioned public opinion research, which included focus groups and an online survey, and the results were recently published.

Some of the key findings:

  • 40 per cent reported experiencing sales practices they considered to be aggressive or misleading, most within the past year.
  • 77 per cent want governments at all levels to act to protect consumers from these sales practices.
  • 83 per cent support a mandatory code of conduct for the telecom industry. 

Government supports ‘code of conduct’ 

It’s all fodder for the Liberal minister responsible for telecommunications, Navdeep Bains, who is calling for the creation of a mandatory code of conduct to protect telecom consumers.

Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains says his government has heard from a high number of Canadians who feel misled by their telecom service providers. (Guillaume Lafreniere/CBC)

“We want to make sure there’s a clear code of conduct to protect consumers when it comes to wireless, internet and cable when they deal with their service provider,” Bains told Go Public.

The Wireless Code, created five years ago, makes it mandatory for cellphone prices to remain fixed during the duration of a contract, but price protections don’t exist for internet and cable services. 

“We want to move forward in a manner that re-establishes that people trust and feel confident about their dealings with telecommunication providers,” said Bains.

‘People are angry’

One of Canada’s most vocal consumer advocacy groups, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, is also urging the creation of a code of conduct, which it called a sales practices code.

“The code would generally say, ‘We don’t want to have misleading sales, overly aggressive sales, or ones that are unsuitable for the customer,'” says PIAC executive director John Lawford.

“It might have sections, for example, banning door-to-door sales, which are problematic,” says Lawford. “It might have sections forbidding companies from disciplining employees for not making sales targets. It might have prohibitions on offers of free hardware where there’s an underlying contract, and so on.”

Lawford says a sales practices code would go a long way toward restoring people’s trust in the telco industry.

“Right now, they basically believe that these guys are the used car salesmen of the 21st century,” he says. “People are angry and they feel they’ve been misled.”

Consumer advocate John Lawford says a sales practices code of conduct would restore people’s trust in the telecom industry. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

Telcos deny widespread problems

Later this week, a dozen telecom service providers will participate in the CRTC’s public hearing.

In their written submissions to the commission, the largest three telco companies — Bell, Rogers and Telus — downplay the prevalence of aggressive or misleading sales tactics, and argue that many avenues for consumer protection already exist — such as the CRTC, the Competition Bureau, the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) and various provincial agencies.

‘Mismatch’ between expectations and outcomes

The first intervener to present on Monday will be the CCTS, an industry-funded independent agency that mediates thousands of complaints a year between consumers and their telecom service providers.

In its submission to the regulator, the CCTS writes that it can’t say whether those complaints 
are the result of deliberate “misleading” by telecom companies.

“It is not the CCTS’s role to investigate intent, nor would our current process allow it,” the submission states.

It writes that a “mismatch between expectations and outcomes” often results in complaints about billing charges, service, delivery or usage, and that changes to any of these “take the customer by surprise.”

The CRTC has to complete its inquiry and report its findings to government by the end of February 2019.

— With files from Enza Uda

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Ontario’s new automated speed enforcement explained

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(NC) To wage the war against speeding, many municipalities across Ontario have turned to automated speed enforcement. Most recently introduced in Toronto, speed cameras are a high-tech solution to reduce speeding and are considered one of the most effective ways to create safer roads and save lives.  

Recognizing police officers cannot catch all speeders, these cameras fill the gap, providing monitoring in specific locations around the clock. When a car’s speed is even one kilometre over the posted amount, it will take a picture of the offending vehicle’s license plate, using the captured photo as indisputable evidence. A ticket is then served to the vehicle’s owner, regardless of who was driving. 

With a focus on high-risk areas, Ontario’s automated speed enforcement cameras are located in two specific municipal areas: school and community safety zones. School zones are designated streets close to a school, featuring reduced speed limits as dictated by local bylaws. Community safety zones are high-risk corridors and intersections, subject to increased fines and penalties.  

While the Ontario Highway Traffic Act outlines the use of automated speed enforcement, municipalities can decide when and where to use cameras to curb speeding. The act does dictate financial penalties for speed violations captured with cameras, which vary depending on the number of kilometres caught over the speed limit.  

Speed enforcement is not new, but part of a broader, integrated road safety strategy that includes infrastructure improvements, awareness campaigns and new uses of technology. City officials hope for a halo effect, inspiring better driving behaviour across entire communities, not only in areas with cameras. A controversial topic, some critics take exception to speed cameras, labelling them as sneaky cash grabs for municipalities. Governments think the opposite. 

Safety advocate and auto insurance provider Onlia is hopeful that the cameras will provide drivers with a reminder to slow down, especially in high-risk areas like school and community safety zones.  

For those who obey the speed limit, automated speed enforcement shouldn’t change anything about your driving style, says Alex Kelly, Safety Ambassador at OnliaDrivers have fair warning as they approach areas with speed cameras, as mandatory signs provide reasonable notice of upcoming automated speed enforcement. Regardless of warnings, the best speed is the posted speed. 

You can start to understand your speeding style by downloading the insurance provider’s new safe driving app that coaches and rewards for you for safe driving habits.

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Online banking: How to protect yourself from fraud

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(NC) Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, a growing number of consumers are regularly using mobile and online banking to paybill payments, transfer money and make purchases.

Although these tools can give you easy access to your personal finances on demand, there are also some risks involved. For instance, your banking information—such as your debit or credit card number, user name, or personal identification number (PIN)—could be stolen. If criminals have access to your online banking information, they can steal your money, which is why it’s so important to be  vigilant when you bank online.

Follow these tips to help protect your personal and banking information:

  • For your online bank accounts, use a strong password that can’t be easily guessed, and never share your user name or password with anyone.
  • Check your accounts regularly to make sure there are no transactions you didn’t make or authorize.
  • When making online purchases, never authorize a website to save your credit card information, password or other personal information. Giving websites this permission will save you some time the next time you access the site, but it poses a real threat if a hacker manages to access your information.

Most financial institutions have policies to protect you from transactions that you didn’t make.

However, you are responsible for protecting your online and mobile banking information. If you give your details to anyone—including your spouse or partner, a family member or a friend—your financial institution may hold you responsible for any unauthorized transactions in your account, and even strip you of protection from unauthorized transactions in the future.

If you suspect your information may have been compromised, change your passwords immediately, and check your account and credit card statements for anomalies and report any suspicious transactions to your financial institution.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has created resources to help you protect your online banking information.

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Payday loans: Not the best way to borrow money

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(NC) Payday loans are a very expensive way to borrow money. Even if you’re struggling financially, think twice—and crunch the numbers—before getting this type of loan.

Depending on the rules in your province, payday lenders can charge fees of $15 to $25 per $100 that you borrow.

As an example, let’s say you borrow $300 for home repairs. The payday lender charges you $51 in fees, or $17 for every $100 borrowed. Your loan balance is therefore $351, which amounts to an interest rate of 442 per cent.

There can be serious consequences if you don’t repay your loan by the due date. These may include the following:

  • The payday lender may charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • Your financial institution may also charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • The total amount that you owe, including the fees, continues to increase.

There are better options out there

Payday loans should be your last resort to borrow money. Consider cheaper ways of borrowing money, such as:

  • Cashing in vacation days or asking for a pay advance from your employer.
  • Getting a line of credit, a cash advance on a credit card or a personal loan from your financial institution.
  • Getting a loan from family or friends.

Before getting a payday loan and to avoid getting stuck in a debt trap, consider other, less expensive ways to borrow money.

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