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Telecom mediator sees 57% spike in complaints in 2017-18, mainly about wireless

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The federal watchdog that handles customer complaints about telecommunications and television services in Canada saw a 57 per cent spike in complaints in 2017-2018, most of them involving wireless providers.

The Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services said Tuesday that it also expects to see complaints rise this year. For the first time, the federal watchdog is also investigating complaints about television.

But most of what it heard in the year to September 2018 were the same issues that the CCTS has been dealing with for the past 10 years — non-disclosure of information and bill surprises by wireless operators.

“Customers will communicate with their service provider and then find out that the reality of what they get is not what they expected to get. This results in billing issues, in charges people don’t expect, on limitation on bandwidth or data,” said CCTS Commissioner Howard Maker.

“It’s a mismatch of customer expectations and what their service provider delivers.”

Maker said the complaints come despite a revised Wireless Code, which is meant to protect consumers. It came into effect in December 2017.

Howard Maker, commissioner of the CCTS, says there is lots of opportunity for the telecom providers to do better, including solving complaints before they reach the telecom watchdog. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

The CCTS handled 14,272 complaints from consumers in 2017-2018. Of that, 41.5 per cent of them were about wireless service and 29.2 per cent were about internet service. Complaints about television made up only 10.6 per cent of the total.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission held hearings into the telcos’ sales practices earlier this year and is due to present the findings in February.

Consumer advocates speaking at the hearings complained that the telcos are misleading seniors and low-income people with high-pressure sales tactics. They called for a sales code of conduct and a “cooling off” period to allow consumers to back out of contracts that are not suitable to their needs.

John Lawford of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre said it’s a positive sign that consumers are complaining more because it means government might listen.

“It’s about time we started increasing complaints in Canada. I’m glad to see people are starting to complain actively now,” he said.

He called for policies that would promote more competition in the telecom industry and “maybe bust out the major players’ stranglehold on the market.”

Lawford suggested rules on wholesale pricing that will encourage competition from smaller players.

“There needs to be some threat to the big guys, so they can’t just do what they want,” he said.

(CBC)

Maker says there is lots of opportunity for the telecom providers to do better.

“We see a lot of complaints that customers bring to us that have no business getting as far as the CCTS. Small complaints where the provider’s own evidence indicates that the customer has merit, that the story the customer is telling is true, and yet they’re not resolved at the frontline, presumably because nobody looked at the records,” he said.

Maker said media coverage of the CRTC hearing with its focus on sales practices may have made more consumers aware of the CCTS and its complaints process.

Telcos need to step up

But he also called on the telcos — especially Bell, Rogers and Telus, the biggest players who account for half of all complaints — to improve their practices.

“Where there’s opportunity for improvement is around the disclosure factor — making sure all the necessary information that customers need to really understand what they’re getting is complete,” Maker said.

Documents should be clear, complete and written in accessible language. Consumers should be educated about “all the ins and outs they need to know to make sure they’re getting what they think they’re getting,” he said.

Internet service complaints climb

The CCTS noted an increase of complaints about internet service, which have grown by 170 per cent in the last five years to 8,987 complaints.

Among the issues  are billing and disclosure issues, but also quality of service such as internet speeds, internet outages and bandwidth overuse surcharges. Consumers also complained about installations — especially technicians who don’t show up on time.

“Consumer protections are in place to TV and wireless, where there are codes. But in the internet business there is no code, so it looks like the CRTC wants to plug that gap,” Maker said.

“This would level the playing field in terms of everyone understanding the rights of the consumers and the providers.”

When the CCTS steps in

The CCTS says it resolved 92 per cent of the consumer complaints it handled.

Among them were:

  • A customer from Laval, Que., agreed to obtain a bundle of home phone, internet and TV services for $111 per month, but was then was billed $131 per month. The provider told her that she was not eligible for the offer priced at $111 per month. CCTS was able to secure the lower price for her for a 12-month period.
  • A customer from Langley, B.C. received an offer from her service provider of a new mobile device, which included a device protection plan. The customer paid $280 for the device and believed she was on a month-to-month agreement. The device broke and she received a refurbished replacement. When she reported her dissatisfaction, she ws told she was locked into a 24-month plan with a $500 cancellation fee. CCTS found the provider had failed to inform the customer that by accepting the new device, she was consenting to a 24-month contract and that it had not sent her a copy of the contract as mandated by the Wireless Code.
  • A customer from Saskatchewan subscribed to internet service delivered through a satellite system. The service functioned properly for a few days until the internet speed decreased, particularly when used for gaming or watching Netflix. The provider said a new plan would be necessary to get those speeds. When the CCTS became involved, the provider offered an upgrade to new infrastructure without an installation fee and with a credit for the customer.

​The telcos’ record in 2017-18

The provider most cited was Bell, the biggest telecom provider in Canada, with 4,734 or a 45.8 per cent increase in complaints.There was a sharp increase in complaints about incorrect monthly pricing and non-disclosure issues.

The CCTS started taking complaints about television service in September 2017. It recorded 3,248 complaints in the first year. (Deyan Georgiev/Shutterstock)

Bell pointed to the increase in complaints for nearly all providers.

“Overall complaints about communications providers have increased each year as both the CCTS’s mandate and consumer awareness of its services continue to grow,” the company said in a statement.

It said its investments in front-line service teams and support systems are having a “positive impact on our customer service performance.”

Rogers, which had 1,449 complaints, sent an email statement from spokesperson Eric Agius: “One complaint is one too many and we always take customer feedback to continuously improve.” 

Telus issued a press statement saying it received the fewest complaints of any national provider, accounting for only 6.6 per cent of complaints.

“Of Telus’s 901 complaints that were concluded prior to the 2017-18 report cut-off date, 757, or 84 per cent, were resolved at the pre-investigation stage,” the statement said.

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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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Real Estate

10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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