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Telecom customers harmed ‘to an unacceptable degree’ by misleading sales tactics, CRTC says

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New rules are needed to prevent telecom companies from using aggressive and misleading sales practices that harm consumers — particularly seniors and other vulnerable Canadians — to an “unacceptable degree,” the CRTC says.

In a report issued today following an eight-month public inquiry, Canada’s telecom regulator says harmful sales practices “exist in all sales channels, including in store, online, over the phone, and door to door.”

 Some of the problematic practices reported to the commission include call centre employees at major telcos adding services to a customer’s account without permission, retail store employees fudging contract details and door-to-door salespeople misrepresenting contract prices. 

“During our public consultation, it became apparent that while service providers have many tools at their disposal to ensure misleading or aggressive sale practices don’t happen, they still do,” said Ian Scott, chair and CEO of the CRTC.

“We are taking steps to address this situation and intend to explore additional solutions to ensure Canadians’ interactions with their service providers are carried out in a fair and respectful way.”

The report doesn’t specify which companies or parts of the country have had the worst track records.

Key recommendations

Some of the key recommendations in the 41-page report include:

  • The CRTC creating a mandatory internet code of conduct that could include price protections during a contract, similar to those that exist for cellphones under the Wireless Code.
  • Requiring service providers allow a cooling off period so customers can cancel services if they don’t match what they were offered.
  • Broadening the mandate of the telecom mediator — the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS) — so it can investigate complaints about misleading and aggressive sales tactics.
  • Conducting nationwide secret shopper tests to ensure retail sales staff aren’t misleading customers.

The CRTC says implementing most of the measures needed to address the problems identified by the inquiry will require additional regulatory proceedings.

For its part, Bell says it will study the report in depth because the company “is always focussed on improving the customer experience.”

Go Public has also reached out to Rogers and Telus for comment.

Complaints to Go Public

Innovation, Science and Economic Minister Navdeep Bains ordered the inquiry last June, after months of media reports, including from Go Public, documented questionable sales practices used by internet, television and wireless providers.

Several months earlier, the CRTC’s Ian Scott said a public inquiry was not necessary because Canadians “already have a variety of options available to them to seek redress.”

At the time, more than 225 current and former telecom employees, mostly from Bell and Rogers, had contacted Go Public to describe what they considered to be intense workplace pressure to mislead customers in order to hit unrealistic sales targets.

The number of whistleblowers has now climbed to more than 400, and another 1,000 telecom customers have written Go Public with complaints of misleading advertising and inappropriate upselling.

‘A very good day for consumers’

One of the first organizations to call for a public inquiry into telco sales tactics was the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).

PIAC executive director John Lawford says the CRTC’s recommendations acknowledge that consumers have been mistreated by their telecom service providers.

John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, says Canadians who felt misled by their service providers should feel vindicated. (CBC)

“It’s a very good day for consumers,” he said. “Because you have a major public guardian, the CRTC, saying that the public has been mistreated and companies need to dial back their their sales approaches because they’ve gotten inhumane and unfair.”

As part of the inquiry, the CRTC received comments from more than 2,300 consumers, telecom workers, and consumer and public advocacy groups, as well as a dozen telecom service providers, including Bell, Rogers, Telus and Vidéotron.

The telecom regulator also commissioned public opinion research, which included focus groups and an online survey. Forty per cent of respondents to the survey reported experiencing sales practices they considered to be aggressive or misleading and 83 per cent supported a mandatory code of conduct for the telecom industry.

A key part of the inquiry involved the regulator holding the first-ever public hearings into telecom sales practices, which took place over five days last October in Gatineau, Que.

The CRTC’s eight commissioners heard from customers, advocacy organizations and the major telcos. The service providers downplayed the prevalence of problematic sales practices and argued plenty of consumer protections already exist, including the CRTC, the Competition Bureau and the CCTS

Door-to-door sales

While the CRTC’s report acknowledges that door-to-door sales of telecom services were the subject of many consumer complaints, the regulator says it doesn’t have jurisdiction over this type of selling so it can’t suggest specific rules to address its issues.

On hidden camera, door-to-door sales reps for Bell mislead customers on prices, products and services. Bell Canada apologized after the CBC report. (Marketplace/CBC)

When Go Public teamed up with CBC’s investigative consumer program Marketplace for a hidden-camera investigation into door-to-door sales of Bell’s Fibe TV, internet and home phone packages, sales reps were recorded misleading homeowners on monthly prices — claiming they were “guaranteed” — and fudged the facts on Wi-Fi reach, internet speed and Bell’s fibre optic network.

Bell Canada apologized, saying the behaviour was not representative of its business and that the sales team would no longer be peddling Bell products at the door.

The CRTC says other consumer protections it is recommending, including presale quotes and cooling off periods, would apply across all sales channels, including at the front door.

‘I was really furious’

Tony Wacheski of Ottawa participated in the public hearing last fall. He described how he thought he had negotiated a price for a three-year deal with Bell for internet, cable and home phone, only to see his bill increase several times.

“I was really furious,” Wacheski, the CEO of a small tech company, told Go Public. “It was totally crazy. Absolutely not what I agreed to.”

Tony Wacheski told the CRTC’s public hearing that Bell promised that his price for internet, cable and home phone would not go up over the course of his three-year contract — but it did, several times. (CPAC)

He says the CRTC recommendations are a step in the right direction.

“I’m hoping that the CRTC will mandate all product/service quotes in writing, have a fixed-price window and a cool-down period.”

Shawn Ahmed of Toronto also appeared at the CRTC’s public hearing. He described how he felt “cheated” after signing up for what he thought was a guaranteed price for Rogers internet service and seeing his bill increase after three months.

“I trusted what I was told over the phone.”

He said today’s report doesn’t address the biggest problem — the lack of market competition.

“Proposals like being able to cancel a contract if you feel like you’ve experienced a bait and switch only helps if you have a viable alternative to choose from.” 

Telco employee blows the whistle

Go Public’s investigation into telco sales practices began in November 2017, when Andrea Rizzo sent an email about working for Bell Canada in a Toronto call centre.

She had worked for Canada’s biggest telecom provider for more than 20 years, but was on stress leave. She said the pressure to try to sell products to people who didn’t need them, didn’t want them, and often couldn’t afford them, was intense.

“We have a lot of seniors who call,” Rizzo told Go Public. “They tell me they’re blind, and I still have to sell them internet.”

Andrea Rizzo was the first telecom worker to contact Go Public and speak out about what she described as intense pressure to meet sales targets at Bell Canada. She was on stress leave at the time, back in November 2017. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Bell denied the allegations, but the story prompted a flood of other telco employees to contact Go Public.

Rogers employees admitted to sneaking products and services onto accounts, or pretending to remove products but not actually doing it.

An employee working at a Rogers call centre in Ottawa, who asked to have his identity protected because he feared losing his job, said that when he was desperate to earn sales points he would secretly add internet services when seniors called about other billing issues.

“We’re giving internet service to customers who actually do not have a computer,” he said.

Rogers said the behaviour did not represent its values or sales practices.

PIAC’s John Lawford says the consumers who spoke out should feel vindicated.

“We’re on the path to having honest and fair sales of these really important services,” he said. “Your internet, your wireless, your home phone and television services are all things that people use every day. It’s one of those very few situations where consumers get a clear win.”

Submit your story ideas

Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.

We want to hear from people across the country with stories you want to make public.

Submit your story ideas at GoPublic@cbc.ca

Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.

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How Law Firms Can Become Successful Marketing Stories

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Today, the legal industry has become saturated due to the growing number of law firms springing up on every corner. This has made it a lot more difficult for smaller legal organizations to contend with their bigger counterparts and gain the visibility they need to grow their business.

Subsequently, most law firms are adopting digital marketing strategies to attract customers and position themselves above their competitors. However, building the specific online marketing strategy that would be a perfect fit for your firm takes a lot of effort and experience.

Search engine algorithms are still quite opaque, and the dynamic nature of the internet means that marketing strategies are constantly evolving. How then can a law firm determine the best marketing technique for themselves?

Below are some expert tips on how to build a successful marketing strategy for your law firm and attract more clients:

Increase organic traffic to your website

The advent of the internet makes it very easy for individuals to search online for whatever products or services they require. Therefore, it is important for law firms to employ effective online marketing strategies that can increase the number of visitors to their website.

Matt Bowman, [resident of Thrive Internet Marketing Agency, says videos, content and free ebooks that deliver value to your target audience can increase traffic to your website and make it a one-stop shop for all legal information.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is another great way to increase your firm’s online reputation. Ranking your website on the first page of a search engine for a relevant keyword can increase the visibility of your law firm but can be difficult to achieve due to the ever-changing nature of search engine algorithms. Nonetheless, just like Chicago lawyer Russell Knight learned, writing quality articles and incorporating quality backlinks to your content are some of the ways you can increase your page rankings.

Additionally, improving your social media presence is another way to increase the number of visitors to your website. By regularly posting updates and sharing quality content across different social media channels, it can motivate followers to check out your website. According to David Reischer, Esq., a lawyer at LegalAdvice, posting infographics is a perfect way for law firms to increase traffic to their website.

Build brand credibility

For every prospective client, one of the criteria for selecting a law firm to engage is how trustworthy and reputable they are. To adequately portray your firm as trustworthy, having a modern, optimized website is important.

Your website is typically an online representation of your firm and once it appears outdated and unattractive, it sends a negative message to your prospective clients. Therefore, always ensure that your website is easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing, mobile-friendly and has quick loading time.

Constantly sharing legal information on niche topics and contributing answers to questions on forums like Quora can position your firm as a subject-matter expert. Senior legal partner at Miracle Mile Law Group Steven Isaac Azizi, Esq., also says including client testimonials on your website is very useful as it not only showcases your quality but improves your firm’s reputation

Increase brand awareness

As a law firm, it is necessary to adopt a dynamic marketing approach and evolve with the times if you intend to remain relevant. As highlighted previously, having a website that’s properly optimized for mobile devices is critical to achieving widespread recognition.

According to Statista, of all website traffic generated globally in 2018, more than 50 percent came from mobile devices; they are now currently accounting for 50 per cent of all web page visits served globally. Therefore, having a mobile-friendly website is imperative when creating online awareness for your law firm.

Giving prospective clients the ability to easily access information about legal issues on their mobile devices will naturally attract visitors to your website. Also, ensure that all content on your website is easy to read on a mobile phone at different resolutions.

This article is provided by dNovo Group.

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Hong Kong protests create potential problems for Ottawa, says academic

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There are four or five flights a day from Vancouver to Hong Kong during the summer season. When they land this weekend, passengers will be met by a sea of protesters staging a three-day occupation of the Hong Kong airport’s arrivals hall.

The protesters are seeking international attention as the city enters its tenth straight weekend of political demonstrations that have, at times, been chaotic and violent.

Airport authorities are taking extra security measures and the Canadian government has raised its travel advisory.

Aside from monitoring local media and avoiding areas where large protests are unfolding, there are several issues for Canadians and Ottawa to consider.

“It’s a perfect storm of domestic tensions playing into international views on Beijing’s intentions and policies,” said Paul Evans, a global affairs professor at the University of B.C. “The dissatisfaction fuelling the protests is, in part, about feelings about freedom, democracy and Hong Kong’s autonomy. But it is also about material concerns related to housing, social services and career prospects.”

The oft-quoted number of Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong is about 300,000. This is an estimate made in 2011 by the Asia Pacific Foundation, which, at the time, said it was based on “conservative assumptions” and that a higher estimate would be over half a million.

There are concerns that, should the situation spiral out of control, there would be protection issues for the federal government to manage. After the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in June 1989, several thousand Canadians were airlifted out of China. But the large number of Canadians in Hong Kong would make evacuation and consular protection much more challenging.

A more immediate issue is Ottawa’s response to the prospect of protesters fleeing arrest by Hong Kong authorities and seeking refuge in Canada.

“Vancouver is already in the global spotlight as a result of the (Huawei executive) Meng Wanzhou arrest and hearings,” said Evans. “Considering the huge number of connections between the two cities, managing requests for political asylum has the potential to put Vancouver in the spotlight in an even bigger way.”

Despite the advisory, many in Hong Kong report a sense of order now that they have adjusted and life is continuing around the protests.

“Local social media is providing good updates regarding the locations and times of the protests,” said Eric Li, a professor of marketing at the University of B.C. Okanagan who is visiting family in Hong Kong and doing some research.

He added that some visitors might be getting limited information if they are only relying on official announcements from government channels.

Li said he feels safe, but “there has been more tension and conflict between the government and police and citizens as well as businesses. The pro-(Beijing) camp and protesters are criticizing each other and there are also (arguments) within families and between friends and colleagues.”

Li has been trying to be “neutral” as a “personal choice. As a person who calls Canada ‘home,’ and Hong Kong ‘my hometown,’ I should say the young protesters are very well-organized and disciplined. The government should actively engage youth in their planning rather than excluding them in the process or putting them in an opposition position.”

“It’s crucial for the Hong Kong government to take a few steps to resolve conflicts through providing open conversation with key stakeholders and young leaders. And protesters should remind themselves the purpose of the (protests) as well as the consequences of their (actions).

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PROREIT buying office, industrial buildings in Ottawa, Halifax

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(PROREIT) will use some of the proceeds from its latest, and largest, share offering to help it purchase two office and industrial properties in Ottawa, and five industrial properties in Halifax for $97.8 million.

(PROREIT) will use some of the proceeds from its latest, and largest, share offering to help it purchase two office and industrial properties in Ottawa, and five industrial properties in Halifax for $97.8 million.

“These acquisitions provide meaningful increases in our industrial sectors and expand our presence in Ontario and the strengthening Halifax market,” president and chief executive officer James Beckerleg told RENX.

PROREIT (PRV-UN-T) is acquiring a fully occupied boutique office building in Ottawa’s central business district. It’s surrounded by tourist sites, multiple restaurants and retail offerings.

PROREIT is also purchasing a class-A mixed-use, multi-tenant flex industrial property in the west-end Ottawa suburb of Kanata. It includes an office and a research and lab facility with what the trust calls exceptional power, air handling and cooling specifications.

The building is fully leased and its tenants are in the material sciences, defence, communications and medical technology fields.

The two Ottawa properties have a combined gross leasable area of 338,000 square feet and a weighted average lease term of 6.6 years. Many of the leases include contracted rent steps.

While the property addresses and additional details are confidential until the deals close, which is expected this quarter, Beckerleg said they’re both institutionally owned and have been maintained to high standards.

The addition of the Ottawa properties will increase PROREIT’s portfolio exposure to the Ontario market to 29.1 per cent by gross leasable area and 29.3 per cent by base rent, making it the REIT’s largest provincial market. It increases the Ottawa portfolio to approximately 620,000 square feet.

“We entered the Ottawa market with our $52-million portfolio acquisition of five office properties last year,” said Beckerleg. “This fits our strategy of investing in strong markets where we can increase our exposure to both of these industry sectors.

“Ottawa is seeing significant growth in office and industrial properties.”


PROREIT’s new Halifax acquisitions

PROREIT has a contract to acquire five light industrial buildings with clear heights of between 18 and 24 feet in Halifax’s Burnside Industrial Park. The portfolio represents 358,000 square feet of gross leasable area.

The buildings are 93 per cent occupied with a weighted average lease term of 4.1 years. Many of the leases include contractual rent steps.

While more details won’t be made available until the deals close, which is expected this quarter, Beckerleg said the condition of the buildings is similar to its Ottawa office purchases. The five buildings have been institutionally owned and maintained at a high level.

“The Halifax industrial market has enjoyed declining vacancies in line with the expanding Halifax economy,” said Beckerleg. “There has been a marked increase in institutional interest in the Halifax industrial sector.

“We like this market. Again, it fits our strategy of focusing on mid-size cities with strong investment metrics.”

PROREIT’s $50-million offering

As part of its funding for the purchases, PROREIT will issue 7.15 million shares on a bought-deal basis at a price of seven dollars per unit, for gross proceeds of approximately $50 million, to a syndicate of underwriters.

PROREIT has also granted the underwriters an over-allotment option to purchase up to an additional 1,072,500 units on the same terms and conditions, exercisable at any time, in whole or in part, up to 30 days after the closing of the offering. It’s expected to close on or about Aug. 16.

“This capital raise, our first since graduating to the TSX, is the largest in PROREIT’s six-year history,” said Beckerleg. “We believe listing on the TSX and consolidating our units to trade in the seven-dollar range has substantially broadened our potential investor base. We believe the success of this capital raise confirms that.”

The Ottawa and Halifax acquisitions will be funded with approximately $30.8 million in cash from the offering and approximately $67 million in new mortgage financing at a weighted average interest rate of 3.4 per cent.

PROREIT intends to use $13 million from the offering to repay debt.

Impact of acquisitions on PROREIT’s portfolio

Upon completion of the acquisitions, PROREIT will own 91 income-producing commercial properties representing approximately 4.4 million square feet of gross leasable area and $625 million of gross book value, with a weighted average lease term of 5.7 years.

The acquisitions will also increase PROREIT’s industrial and mixed-use exposure by another 636,726 square feet to more than 2.8 million square feet. That represents 64 per cent of its total gross leasable area and 46 per cent of its total base rent.

While PROREIT has no other immediate acquisition plans, Beckerleg said opportunities are always being reviewed.

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