Without fines, Big Telecom will keep lying to customers

January 14, 2021

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Back in November, a TekSavvy customer named Matthew Lafleur in Cambridge, Ontario contacted customer service about an incident that really bothered him.

A man had knocked on his door and introduced himself as the local area sales representative for Rogers. He tried to sell Lafleur on Rogers’ internet service and, upon learning that he was a TekSavvy customer, proceeded to tell him that he could save him money because… drumroll please… Rogers owns TekSavvy.

Taken aback, Lafleur rightly informed TekSavvy of this obvious lie. The company is clearly not owned by Rogers, nor any other big telco. It’s proudly independent.

Unfortunately, this happens. TekSavvy customers report with some regularity that they’re visited by salespeople and technicians who inappropriately and aggressively try to poach their business with erroneous information and outright untruths.

Like other indie ISPs, TekSavvy purchases wholesale access to big companies’ networks, which is why their technicians handle service calls. Some use these opportunities for other purposes.

The incidents are often egregious. Some examples, which TekSavvy reported to the CRTC in the regulator’s 2018 investigation of retail sales practices by large telecommunications carriers, include:

  • A cable provider's technician telling a TekSavvy customer that they had a $50 to $75 incentive to convince users during an install or repair appointment to switch to the big company.
  • A telco technician incorrectly telling a TekSavvy customer during a DSL installation that their building was fibre-only and that they needed to set up service with his employer.
  • A cable technician falsely claiming to a customer during installation that TekSavvy modems were inferior to his company’s, which then led to that customer switching.

TekSavvy in turn reports such incidents to the respective big companies and their answers are always the same: “We’ll look into it… it’s just a few bad apples… we’ll make sure they’re correctly trained.”

In the end, no one knows if any action is actually taken. Without penalties, it will keep happening.

The CRTC is well aware of the larger problem. It has been investigating misleading and aggressive sales practices by telecom companies for some time and has found that it’s happening to an unacceptable degree. Action is clearly needed.

The regulator took a good step in this direction just before Christmas by implementing a new quality of service regime, a set of rules that will govern how big companies handle installations and repairs for indie ISP customers.

The rules, which are scheduled to take effect by the end of this year, will effectively change the agreement between indie ISPs and big companies on the workings of technical minutiae, such as reporting how long wholesale installations and repairs, exactly when the clock starts ticking on service requests and how rebooked appointments are treated.

Such basic ground rules are a welcome development as they introduce some accountability into the process, but make no mistake – they are merely baby steps. They alone won’t stop big companies’ representatives from continuing to misinform TekSavvy customers.

To do that, stiff penalties are needed. Instituting fines for misleading customers with the goal of poaching their business is the next logical step.

TekSavvy plans to keep pushing for such penalties because without them, the incentives to misinform people will continue to be too strong for some salespeople and technicians to resist. Big company reps like the one who visited Lafleur will keep knocking on customers’ doors and continue telling them lies.

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