Bell MTS in hot seat over landline complaints
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The CRTC is demanding answers from Bell MTS after the Free Press reported on the plight of customers who had to cope with downed landline service for weeks, and even months, while the company failed to make repairs.
“The commission has been made aware through complaints, news articles and other sources, of serious and persistent service-quality issues affecting landline telephone service provided by Bell MTS within the Winnipeg area,” Fiona Gilfillan, executive director of the federal regulator’s telecommunications sector, said in a letter sent to Bell MTS on Friday.
“These issues and outages are impacting their ability to contact 911 and essential services. Moreover, residents have been complaining of poor customer service, missed appointments, and that Bell MTS has failed to respond to service outages in a timely manner. Many of the complaints refer to deteriorating telecommunications infrastructure across the city.”
Given the seriousness of the issues, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is demanding in just seven days “comprehensive answers, including rationale and any supporting information” in several areas, Gilfillan said.
The answers sought by May 20 include a list of all landline outages in Winnipeg since Jan. 1, 2021, which lasted four hours or more and affected five or more households, as well as what caused the outage and how many customers were affected; and the total number of Bell MTS residential customers in the Winnipeg area who, since Jan. 1, 2021, had experienced outages of 24 hours or more, 48 hours or more, 72 hours or more, 168 hours or more, 720 hours or more and 1,440 hours or more.
The telephone company must identify known service-quality issues about Bell MTS landline telephone service, including what they have done or plan to do to resolve the issues. It must also send the number of complaints the company has received from all customers in the Winnipeg area since Jan. 1, 2021 and let the CRTC know what the company has told its customers who have had “serious and persistent quality-of-service issues” including how many service calls were made to resolve the issues.
Late Friday, Andrew Parkinson of Bell MTS sent an email that said the company would review the letter from the CRTC and reply to the regulator directly.
“We remain committed to restoring services for all of our customers as quickly as possible. As a result of the extremely adverse weather conditions of late in southern Manitoba, requests for repairs are up over 60 per cent. Our technicians in the field are working overtime to get to everyone as fast as they can,” he said.
Numerous Winnipeggers contacted the Free Press this week to say their landlines were out of order. In one case, a senior was unable to contact Lifeline services. Customers lost connections to the Internet, burglar and fire alarms, and emergency services.
St. George’s Anglican Church in Crescentwood said persistent service outages resulted in their fire alarm not being connected to emergency services. They decided to cancel Bell MTS service and switch to Shaw even though it was expected to cost thousands of dollars because of the need to install cable in the decades-old building.
West End resident Karen Kirk, who was rousted out of bed late one night last week when her malfunctioning landline called 911 on its own, causing Winnipeg police to respond, welcomed the CRTC intervention.
“I think we are getting some action (and) that’s good,” Kirk said.
“I just don’t understand it. I don’t know if they just don’t have enough staff, but it’s not that simple to switch (to another provider). Why would we have to be the ones to make the change?
“Hopefully, the CRTC will shake them up.”
West St. Paul resident Gary Moulder, who said his phone briefly worked Thursday before going out again — after being out of service for two weeks — is glad the CRTC is stepping in.
“It’s what we wanted,” Moulder said. “We wanted somebody with more clout like the CRTC. All those articles in the newspaper helped.
“Somebody at MTS should be fired. It is a total lack of consideration for what is happening.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.