"Bill shock" continues to be a top irritant for customers of Canada's telecommunications and television services, according to the industry's ombudsman.
"You know, that thing where you open up your bill and you tear your hair out," Howard Maker, head of the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services, said in an interview.
Customers continue to receive bills that are devastatingly high, but Maker said the causes have evolved since Canada implemented a code of conduct for wireless carriers in 2013 and updated it with more stringent rules in 2017.
Until recently, the biggest causes of bill shock with wireless services were overage fees for going beyond a monthly data allowance and international roaming fees for using mobile phones while travelling outside Canada.
"People are now starting to see difficulties with their texting charges and their long-distance charges," Maker said.
Incorrect billing charges accounted for 16.5 per cent of all issues raised in 9,831 complaints to the CCTS over a six-month period to Jan. 31 and was the top issue for almost every type of service.
The second most common sore point for customers was misleading and undisclosed contract terms, although that was the No. 1 problem in the wireless arena during CCTS's latest reporting period.
Overall complaints were up 68 per cent from last year's mid-year report, although that was partly due to the inclusion of complaints about television services for the first time.
Wireless services accounted for 37.1 per cent of all issues handled by the CCTS over the six months while 27.8 per cent of the issues related to internet service and 18.2 per cent of the issues were about TV.
The CCTS is an industry-funded body that gets its mandate from the federal government's Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which has established various codes of conduct for service providers.
The CRTC's 2017 revision of the wireless code included a requirement to notify account holders -- the people paying the bills, rather than the people using the devices -- before data and roaming usage goes over the limit.
The CCTS has been seeing "far fewer" complaints about mobile data overages and international roaming, Maker said.
"But if there is no overriding obligation to notify -- like with text or long-distance -- then we're having a different conversation."
The CCTS says about 60 per cent of the complaints covered by the report were about five service providers -- Bell, Rogers, Cogeco, Telus and Freedom Mobile, a regional wireless service from Shaw Communications.
Bell (BCE.TO) is Canada's largest telecommunications company and typically accounts for the largest share of complaints to the CCTS. In this report, Bell's share has dropped to 30.9 per cent from 33.2 per cent a year ago.
Similarly, Rogers (RCIb.TO) remained at No. 2 on the list but its share dropped to 9.3 per cent from 10.3 per cent.
And Telus (T.TO), which usually gets the third-highest number of complaints, accounted for 7.6 per cent of the complaints, up from 7.5 per cent.
However, Telus was pushed to the No. 4 spot by Cogeco -- primarily a regional cable TV and internet service provider in Quebec and Ontario.
The CCTS mid-year report doesn't explain Cogeco's high ranking but its more detailed annual report for the year ended Aug. 31, 2018, said that complaints about internet service delivery had risen by 255.5 per cent to 135 in 2017-18.
Freedom Mobile's (SJRb.TO) No. 5 ranking comes as it becomes a bigger challenger to Bell, Rogers and Telus in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
Maker said that during the latest reporting period the CCTS determined Freedom had violated the wireless code a number of times by failing to give adequate warnings that service would be discontinued by the company.
In total, the CCTS reported that breaches to the wireless code were up 42 per cent, including a 163 per cent increase in "failure to give notice before disconnection."
Freedom issued a statement that the 21 breaches of the wireless code cited by the CCTS were the result of six customers -- including one who accounted for 14 breaches.
"As we look for ways to grow our business and serve Canadians in the best way possible, we will review the report carefully and use this and other information to continue improving our internal processes," Freedom said.
BNN Bloomberg is a division of Bell Media, which is owned by BCE.