They can't even make a public statement
After the article was printed ... what happened? How did CWC try to take back what they had said? Here is my best effort, given the information I have, at a description of this...

Thursday 19 February
The first sign that all was not well was this message posted to the tdc.general newsgroup:

This morning I thought I would try Customer Services to see if they had an official line on Videotron tariffs yet. The first person I spoke to after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with her 'manager' declared that customers would be 'asked' to move to a CWC tariff on 1 April.

When asked what 'asked' meant she said 'well forced really'. I then asked if I could have that in writing and she took my details. Then I looked at CWC's Web site and from there to The Times' Web site where the Watch article was reproduced. The contradiction between this piece and what I had been told earlier prompted me to call Customer Services back. The person I spoke to this time did not only know nothing about removal of Videotron tariffs; she also assured me that no earlier entry had been made on my file regarding a letter stating the removal in April.

[..] I received a return call about three hours later from Guy Hancox (Consumer Pricing Manager). He apologised about the confusion and discrepancies from customer services. He then went on to explain that CWC will remove the Videotron tariff by force. He could not say when this would happen but thought it was unlikely to happen in April. He went on to claim that the article in The Times was a misquote and that CWC are talking to The Times about it at the moment.

And, on reading this, someone else had a go:

I phoned CWC as soon as I saw this message, and was told, even before I mentioned it, that the Times article was a 'distorted misquote'. She refused to tell me what the full truth was, and would not put me through to any management, even after I insisted. She only said that the company's views are opposed to those represented in the Times article, and that people on Videotron terms would be 'asked' to move near the beginning of the 'second quarter'. I asked what would happen if we didn't comply. She said our contracts would 'lapse'. I was almost speechless; I suggested they examine Alastair's website carefully and then had nothing more to contribute.

And CWC had indeed been speaking to The Times, repeating remarks about 'distorted misquotes' and asserting that they had tried to contact the newspaper between 11 and 18 February to take back what had been stated and verified by the Press Office. The Times could show that no such contact had been made. Later, when Chris Ward tried to contact Guy Hancox, he was put off - several times - by his secretary.

Friday 20 February
The second person quoted above tried to call the person they talked to again ... and was told that no person of that name was employed by the department they were speaking to.

Someone else phoned up CWC and was told that the marketing department and the Press Office are saying different things and only Graham Wallace can decide.

Meanwhile, CWC had been in contact, again, with The Times and apologised for the remarks about 'distort[ion]' and 'misquot[ation]'; they also took back any statements about 1 April and the assertion that they had tried to contact The Times between 11 and 18 February. If the remarks had been legally verifiable - although I have no doubt that they were said - they would have been defamatory.

Then Chris had a long conversation with someone fairly high up in CWC - not Guy Hancox - in which absolutely no commitment to anything was given by that person.

Monday 23 February
A subscriber reported:

I spoke to Customer Services today and enquired about the unmetered calls. They had to get back to me, but said that they were not aware of any comments made to The Times newspaper, and wanted to know who gave the authority to make such a comment.

When they returned my call, they said that a comment will be made to The Times sometime this week.

Another subscriber, after being asked to do so, faxed Customer Services a copy of the article 'for their own use'.

Wednesday 25 February
The statement is made.

What has happened raises many questions. For example:
  • CWC's confirmation statement stated, in part, that I've spoken to the man who decides on the tariffs within our consumer marketing department and there are no plans at all to remove the free local calls. This contradicts what was said here: if the man who decides on the tariffs is not the Consumer Pricing Manager, who is he and what does the Consumer Pricing Manager do?
  • Graham Wallace's letter of 23 January stated, in part, that the fact you have highlighted [the unmetered local calls] issue shows how sensitive we have to be. Is the chain of events given here, especially statements about removing unmetered local calls by 'force', displaying 'sensitiv[ity]'?
  • How can a one-off statement to a member of the public be described as more 'definitive' than a verifiable statement made to and printed by a newspaper?
  • How come the confirmation statement happened to give entirely plausible and consistent reasons - not just the only reasons ever given - for allowing ex-Videotron customers to stay on their tariffs?
  • The tête-à-tête between Chris Ward and Guy Hancox's secretary demonstrates something I and others have noticed before: CWC staff tend to become temperamental when put under pressure on Videotron issues.
  • Five days after the article, Customer Services had still not been told either that The Times' article existed or how to handle enquiries about it. This absence of internal communication seems par for the course for CWC.
I would welcome your comments.
Text by various people, collated by Alastair Scott

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