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Michael Gilbert loves Mexico. He owns a house near Guadalajara and plans to become a snowbird when he retires.
But he was upset with Rogers, his home phone provider, since it excluded Mexico from its unlimited North American long distance calling plan.
“I’ve explained to Rogers that Mexico is part of North America. It’s that large thing attached to Texas,” he said.
“My goal is to have Rogers acknowledge that Mexico is an integral part of North America. This has been going on for years. It’s insensitive.”
Mexico is part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which includes Canada and the United States. Mexico City is known as the most populated city in North America.
Gilbert finally had enough. When billed last February and March for calls made to Mexico by his wife Diane, who stayed close to home for family reasons, he decided to file a formal complaint.
Though his complaint was turned down by Rogers and later by the telecom ombudsman, he eventually won the changes he wanted.
“We have updated the plan description to make sure it more clearly outlines what’s included for all customers,” said Rogers spokesperson Sarah Schmidt.
Gilbert, a philosophy professor at York University who teaches argumentation theory, seemed eminently qualified to succeed with this campaign. But he batted zero at first.
Rogers turned down his request to include Mexico in its unlimited North American long distance calling plan or change the plan’s name.
His appeal to the CCTS, the industry-funded ombudsman that deals with complaints against phone companies, also went nowhere.
Gilbert started with Rogers, where he used the live chat function to press his case.
“I spoke to a young man, who got frustrated when I kept telling him, ‘Look at a map.’ He eventually dropped me. I don’t know if it was intentional or not,” he said.
Next stop: The Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS). It told him to go back to Rogers, and connected him to an agent in the company’s office of the president.
“She urged me to drop the matter. She said the CCTS has no jurisdiction over advertising. And designating North America as including only Canada and the U.S. was an advertising point,” Gilbert recalls.
“She said I’d get a refund if I said the matter was resolved. I demurred. I am, after all, a philosopher. Part of our job is to be a pain in the neck.”
Rogers then sent an email to the CCTS. It argued that an advertising complaint was outside of the ombudsman’s scope. (Phone companies must pay the CCTS to handle individual complaints.) The CCTS has the power to investigate a case even if the telecom supplier objects. With Gilbert’s complaint, it determined that the matter was within its scope after all, since it concerned billing.
“The customer is, in part, claiming that Rogers billed him incorrectly as Mexico is part of North America. Therefore, calls made to Mexico should be covered in his North America long distance plan,” the CCTS said.
Three weeks later, the ombudsman turned down his request for Rogers to amend its policy for the following reasons:
“This seemed originally to be a billing complaint,” says Howard Maker, the commissioner. “But when we spoke to Prof. Gilbert, we discovered he knew he’d be billed for the calls to Mexico. He wanted to get Rogers to change the name of the plan.
“We don’t tell companies how to run their business. If Rogers wants to call it the Toronto Maple Leafs plan, I don’t really care as long as Rogers discloses that calls to Mexico are not covered.”
Schmidt said Rogers customers expect the details of its packages to be clear and explain the value they offer.
“We appreciate the feedback that it didn’t happen in this case, as we look at how we can improve,” she said.
Gilbert complained to the Competition Bureau, a federal agency that regulates misleading advertising. I suggested going to Advertising Standards Canada, a not-for-profit self-regulatory body that has a standards code.
But he won’t have to proceed after all.
Rather than continuing to deny that Mexico was part of North America, Rogers took a closer look and changed the wording to Canada and U.S. calling.
Ellen Roseman’s column appears in Smart Money. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org