Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Previously at mercy of carriers

Customers have therefore been at the mercy of carriers changing terms on them in the middle of a contract, because in many cases it would have been prohibitively expensive to cancel early.

Other pledges found in the code are promises to:

* Help customers understand their services and charges with clear and readable contracts.
* Protect their personal information.
* And provide them with proper customer service.

The code will be administered by the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, a body set up two years ago by the industry to negotiate disputes between customers and companies. The CCTS will use the code when judging complaints on cellphone services.

"The CCTS will resolve and hear complaints and they will adjudicate against the code and, therefore, enforce the code," CWTA president Bernard Lord said.

"That's one thing that's very clear here and different from similar codes you'll find in other countries, and that is that our code links to a third-party adjudicator."

So far, every major Canadian cellphone carrier — including Bell, Rogers and Telus and their subsidiary brands Solo, Virgin, Fido and Koodo — has signed on to the code, as have new entrants starting service within the next few months, with the exception of Toronto-based DAVE Wireless.

Lord said he hopes to have DAVE, run by entrepreneur John Bitove, sign on before it launches service. A spokesperson for the company said it intends to sign on to the code closer to its launch.

The CWTA will monitor the code and how it is administered by the CCTS for two years and make changes as necessary, Lord said.

Consumer advocates don't think much of the new code.

"I think the privacy guarantee isn't anything. Just saying they have privacy policies is no help whatever," said John Lawford, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. There is "very little substance here.... At this juncture it's too general and vague to really be of use."

The code was announced a day after it was revealed that the CWTA, the wireless industry's lobby group, had helped persuade the federal government to scrap a taxpayer-funded online cellphone rate calculator.

Lord said the tool was ineffective because it didn't take into account data plans or bundle discounts, while a spokesperson for Industry Minister Tony Clement said it was scrapped because of technical limitations.

Critics, including Liberal MP Dan McTeague, said the government was guilty of caving in to lobbying by the industry. Studies found that focus groups who had used the online calculator in tests were overwhelmingly positive about it.

The website was supposed to have launched in June.

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