There has been a dramatic increase in the number of complaints raised against Canada's telecommunications companies, according to an annual tally released Tuesday.
The 14,272 complaints received by Canadian telecom and TV customers over the 2017-18 period was up 57 per cent from the previous year, while the total number of issues they raised rose 67 per cent to 30,734, the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services says in its report for the 12 months from Aug. 1, 2017 to July 31, 2018.
"With the addition of TV complaints to our mandate in September of 2017, we did anticipate an increase -- but not the 57 per cent that we received," CCTS commissioner Howard Maker said in the report.
But, Maker added, fewer than five per cent of the complaints related to TV alone.
"The increase was in the same types of issues that Canadians have complained about historically: sales transactions that go wrong, service that doesn't work as expected, and billing problems."
In an interview on Tuesday, Maker said another reason for the increased number of complaints was public awareness of the CCTS due to notifications by the carriers, media attention to consumer complaints and regulatory proceedings such as recent hearings into the sales and marketing practices of Canada's largest wireless and internet providers.
"I think all of those things contribute to CCTS becoming more widely known," Maker said.
The decade-old dispute-resolution body was originally responsible for monitoring compliance with Canada's wireless code, which was updated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, effective Dec. 1, 2017.
Wireless services continued to have the biggest number of identified issues by far, with 12,757 in 2017-18, up 49 per cent from last year's tally.
But issues with internet service rose even more quickly to 8,987, up 56 per cent.
Billing and contract disputes continued to be the two biggest issues identified in the CCTS report, regardless of type of service.
For the full 2017-18 reporting year, the biggest category of code breaches out of 111 recorded by the CCTS was about a lack of notification to account holders when one or more device in a shared account hits its monthly data allowance.
Maker said the CCTS had been advocating account-level notifications since 2013, when the original code went into effect, and noted that the CRTC adopted that approach in the revised code.
He said the CRTC has also noticed a trend towards more complaints about internet services and is now studying the possibility of a separate internet code of conduct, in addition to its wireless and TV codes.
But Maker cautioned against just looking at raw numbers in the CCTS annual report.
It's important to consider how a provider performed compared with the overall industry this year, how has it performed over time and how well has it resolved disputes before they get to the CCTS, he said.
"And what's the size of their customer base? Because if you have 30 per cent of the complaints and you have 50 per cent of the customers, maybe that's not so bad. But if you have 10 per cent of the customers, then maybe that's a problem."
As in recent years, Bell Canada continued to receive the biggest number of complaints, 4,734 or 33.2 per cent of the total -- not counting 847 directed at its Virgin Mobile flanker brand or its Bell Aliant (229) and Bell MTS (135) regional affiliates.
Bell noted that it is Canada's largest communications provider by far, with more than 22 million customer connections, and so it's not surprising that it received the largest number of complaints (33.2 per cent of total.)
"It's important to note that Bell's share of the total continued to decline for the third year in a row, and decline more quickly than for our largest competitors," the BCE subsidiary said in a statement.
Rogers received the second-largest number of complaints, 1,449 or 10.2 per cent of the total, followed by Telus at No. 3 with 944 or 6.6 per cent of the total, not counting their flanker brands.
Rogers said its share of complaints was far less than its market share and the year-over-growth was below the industry average.
"We're committed to being clear, simple and fair with our customers, and while our complaints are down over 60 per cent over the last five years, one complaint is one too many," Rogers said in a statement.
Telus continued to have the fewest complaints of the three big national wireless carriers, even though the number increased 49.6 per cent -- faster than at Bell (45.8 per cent) or Rogers (34.4 per cent).
"For the seventh year in a row we have led the industry with the fewest complaints of any national carrier, which only inspires us to do better," Telus said in a statement.
For the first time since it was created, Freedom Mobile -- which only has networks in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia -- placed fourth in the CCTS annual tally, after the number of complaints rose 185.3 per cent to 850.
Freedom's corporate parent Shaw also saw complaints against it more than double, rising 111.9 per cent to 337 or 2.4 per cent of the total.
Other carriers that saw complaints at least double included Videotron -- Quebecor's telecom division, which operates cable, internet and wireless services in Quebec -- and internet-television providers Cogeco Connexion, Eastlink and TekSavvy, but the totals remained far behind the three national wireless carriers.
The CCTS says 10,214 or 71.6 per cent of the complaints it received were resolved without having to move to a higher level of intervention that included an investigation. A further 1,935 of the complaints were resolved after an investigation and 1,068 complaints were closed with or without an investigation for a variety of reasons.
In 32.5 per cent of the closed complaints, the CCTS decided that a further investigation wasn't warranted and 30.1 per cent were closed because the customer didn't co-operate. A further 18.8 per cent were closed because the CCTS decided the service provider's offer was reasonable.