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Watchdog must put your rights first
October 16, 2015
By Celia Sankar
Our fight to ensure that the phone companies respect you as a customer continues.
This week, the DiversityCanada Foundation and the National Pensioners Federation told the telecom watchdog that it must put the rights of consumers above everything else as we seek to stop Telus from changing consumer contracts without getting permission to do so.
As you may recall, the battle with Telus is over a policy the company introduced two years ago which DiversityCanada and the NPF complained forced prepaid, pay-per-use customers to switch to monthly plans.
For years, pay-per-use customers were able to acquire prepaid credits and if they didn't need to make any calls or use any other wireless service, the funds would accumulate in their account. Because Telus required customers to add more funds (that is, to “top up” their account) in order to prevent Telus seizing their balance on an “expiry date”, consumers ended up having hundreds of dollars in their accounts.
Then, in October of 2013, Telus told prepaid customers who had $300 or more in their account that they had to start spending those funds on a monthly plan that offered 50 local calls and 50 texts per month.
Telus didn't give their customers any chance to refuse this change, even if the customers didn't want and would never make use of the 50 calls and 50 texts.
This week, our two organizations pointed out to the telecom watchdog, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), that its own rules dictate that consumer rights must be put first in a dispute such as this. (You can read the full text of our submission here.)
However, when the CRTC ruled on this dispute earlier this year, in May, it did the opposite. In its decision, the CRTC agreed with the position that Telus' terms of service entitled the company to make such a change without having to ask consumers' permission. (You can read the CRTC's ruling here.)
Now, DiversityCanada and the NPF have fought back by pointing out that according to Telus' terms of service, the company had obligations to consumers which required Telus to either get permission from consumers for the change from pay-per-use service to monthly plans, or to refund the entire balance to any customer who didn't want to switch.
This week, we also pointed the CRTC to a section of the Wireless Code which states that when an agreement between a wireless carrier and consumers can be interpreted in more than one way, then the agreement must be interpreted in a way that gives consumers the victory.
It was the CRTC itself that introduced the Wireless Code in June of 2013. The aim of the Wireless Code was to ensure that wireless services providers operate with contracts that are clear and fair, and that allow consumers the ability to make choices about what wireless services they would purchase.
The challenge by DiversityCanada and the NPF to Telus' policy, which we say denies consumers any choice and forces them to do as Telus requires, is one of the big, early tests of the value of the Wireless Code in protecting consumer rights.
We will let you know how the CRTC decides on this issue.
On a final note, I must make special mention of a few people. I say a big thank you to Jim Nichol for supporting our position before the CRTC, and to Terry Rowe for reminding the CRTC that their decisions affect real people with real concerns.
And finally, I must express appreciation for Brian Murrell who made a submission to the CRTC that put the entire matter in the following terms which anyone can easily understand:
"...what Telus are doing is very disingenuous. They collected money from their customers under one set of terms and then changed those terms to force customers to spend that money in a way that is entirely different from which they paid for the services.
"Imagine you go into deli. You read the sandwich board behind the counter with the list of sandwiches and prices. You order a pastrami on rye and pay $5 for it. You then move down the counter to where the sandwich is being made but instead of a pastrami on rye, the person starts making you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and tells you that they decided to change the sandwich they were going to give you after you have ordered and paid for it.
"Does that seem fair? That is essentially what Telus are doing to their pre-paid customers and they deserve to be protected by the Wireless Code of Conduct...."
That pretty much sums it up.