Big telecom companies feel the heat of consumer rage

A $19 billion class action against Canada’s major wireless companies over undisclosed extra fees can proceed, thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada. About 30,000 people have joined the case, says lawyer Tony Merchant.

The issue is the “system access fee” that wireless carriers routinely added to customers’ bills. They blamed the government for making them charge an extra $7 to $9 a month, giving the impression they had no choice in the matter.

This particular fee may be gone except for customers with older plans, but extra fees still linger on wireless bills. For example, Rogers started in 2009 to charge a government regulatory recovery fee .

However, new customers are no better off, since the major carriers simply increased their prices to replicate the fees they say went toward paying for their licenses and purchasing wireless spectrum, as well as maintaining and upgrading their expensive wireless networks, said a Toronto Star story.

Another class action suit alleges that Bell Canada was using illegal expiry dates on its prepaid wireless contracts. Lead plaintiff Celia Sankar says Bell’s seizing of customers’ credit balances contravenes Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act.

Bell is angering many customers again. Not only is it charging a $2 fee for paper bills, but it is cutting its bundle discounts to $4 per service (from $5).

Bundle discounts are supposed to keep you loyal to Big Telecom and reluctant to switch elsewhere. But one customer did the math and switched his Internet service to Teksavvy (even before the bundle discounts were reduced in June).

I’m getting lots of feedback about Bell’s double play. See a few comments below from disgruntled clients.

How can telecom companies raise prices for customers under contract? This is unfair, even unconscionable. A contract should be binding on both parties, not just one side.

Let’s hope that an enterprising lawyer sees abusive contracts as the next class action to fight in court.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

17 thoughts on “Big telecom companies feel the heat of consumer rage”

  1. I spoke with Bell. Clearly, they must be receiving large volumes of calls regarding the $2 bill fee.

    I am not going to change service providers, as that seems a bit extreme. However, I did tell Bell to stop mailing me promotional material. I also unsubscribed from their marketing emails.

    In essence, Bell will no longer be able to market to me, which in the long run, for a $2 bill fee is shortsighted on their part.

    If, for some reason, Bell does mail me promotional material, I can simply mark return to sender on the outside of the envelope and repost it. This adds significant postage return costs to Bell.

    You may want to share this tactic with your readers.

  2. On April 2/12, I received snail mail from Bell. It included a letter that said, “Below are the details of the offer and plan you selected and agreed to.”

    What followed was a list of Services and, beside each, a note indicating what I had agreed to, such as:

    Service Home Phone Lite
    Contract Term 12 months
    Contract Start Date 2012/01/06
    Invoice Paper bill, no cost

    Just after that, I received an email telling me to accept ebilling or pay $2.00 per month for a paper invoice.

    I contacted their customer service department and got absolutely nowhere.

    I don’t believe that Bell or any other company should be able to come to an agreement with a customer and then arbitrarily change the terms of the agreement to satisfy their objectives.

    Furthermore, I don’t believe that I am alone. I think there must be hundreds of customers who are also being treated in such a cavalier manner.

  3. After receiving my Bell bill today, I was shocked to find a paper bill fee. I had called Bell back in April and spoke with a customer service rep, who assured me that I was not going to be affected.

    After going around in circles with another rep, I was transfered to a case manager, who actually said that “all Bell services have now switched to an e-bill as their primary method of delivery”.

    I found that odd, since there was only notification given regarding Internet Services and not anything else.

    I wonder how many people will receive the shock this month. It seems that Bell went the back door route and failed to properly notify their clients of the switch. They were even confusing in giving out the same inaccurate information to those of us who have OneBill.

    The person I talked to certainly got an earful, although I know it’s not her fault. She offered me a discount for a year to counteract the paper fee.

    After a year, though, I said I was going to consider other options for a phone/wireless provider.

    What most bothers me is that the most loyal customers are of the older generation. They have been with Bell for decades and are being dinged just to have the privilege of receiving their bill in the mail.

    Shame on Bell. I’m sure I won’t be the only one emailing you about the absolute disgust I have with a company that used to put customers first, but not any more.

  4. Thanks for consistently fighting the good fight for consumers!

    I have a Bell cellphone and just received a text notice about their ‘Enhanced 911’ service:

    Their website says that it’s an opt-in service, but people participating will be charged a mandatory fee, as mandated by the government.

    WIND Mobile specifically says that this service is free:

    Perhaps it’s something you can look into?

  5. After your column (April 07/12), I “went paperless” with Bell and got a $24 credit, thanks to you.

    My May bill came in the post as normal. Today, I received my June 20th bill, with a “paper bill fee” of $2.

    I called the magnificent Bell billing department and was told their files indicated that “I wanted BOTH a paper bill and an EBill”!

    I asked if it would make sense to go to all the hassle to register for paperless and still want paper.

    The agent simply reverted to the standard script. Bell was a wonderful company, dealing with technology and communication. Today, they can get neither right.


    Hi again. I just had an executive assistant in Montreal call to apologize! Boy, you really get results!

    I was able to let her know of a couple of my other Bell pet peeves. I’ll be interested to know if others have been similarly affected.

  6. I received my bill for Bell services and noticed that there was a $2 paper bill fee. I phoned Bell billing and I asked when this $2 fee was started and was I informed.

    “Mike” told me there was an insert in my previous bill that explained the fee. I asked for a phone number to call and complain. He said this was company policy and that was it.

    I said that my computer was hacked and I did not feel safe doing banking and paying bills on my computer.

    Again, “Mike” said that there was nothing I could do about this and couldn’t complain to anyone because it was company policy.


    Hello Ellen, I got a call from Bell, thanks to you.

    A lady in the executive office asked why I had gone to the media. I said the Bell employee I reached refused to let me speak to a supervisor.

    She said that is too bad because they believe in customer service. After we talked, she gave me a $5 a month discount on my home phone for a year.

    Thank you for bringing this matter to Bell’s attention and for getting a goodwill gesture for me for a year. Every little bit helps when it comes time to pay my bills.

  7. Good old Bell are at it again. I just received my bill and it contains the following changes:

    My internet has gone up by $2 a month.

    My television service has gone up by $3 a month.

    By Bundle Savings credit has gone down by $3 a month, from $15 to $12.

    I’m now being hit with a monthly Paper Billing Fee of $2.

    Gross increase: $10.66 a month.

    I think i’ll be calling my friendly Cogeco store.

  8. In January, I negotiated a package with Bell for home telephone and internet for $39 a month.

    It took them a couple of months to get their act together. I believe it was March or April before I finally got a bill with which I was satisfied ($39 + taxes = $45-ish a month).

    For the next two months, my bill was consistent with our agreement. However, this month (June), I received a bill that was about $1.80 more.

    How they calculate these things is beyond me, but my bundle discount was decreased from $10 to $8 per month.

    It’s not that we can’t afford the extra $2, but there’s a principle involved.

    How can Bell, after agreeing to a 12-month $39 monthly fee, increase the bill, without notice, by $2 a month?

    I’m afraid I lost it with a service agent tonight (to whom I apologize) and ordered them to adjust my June bill to the agreed upon $39 a month within 48 hours or Bell is history in this household.

    I’m really fed up with having to call them almost every month. Are all communications companies like this?

    I think my agreement is binding until the end of the year. Bell doesn’t agree, so I have been shopping around for another ISP and land line phone provider.

  9. Here is a comment I posted when Bell asked me to fill out a customer survey after I’d negotiated a 12 per cent discount for my landline phone and Internet service combined.

    Dear Bell:

    I just wish I didn’t have to make this kind of call (to negotiate billing rates).

    There seems to be a lack of respect toward the customer when Bell, within a few months, quietly announced a reduction of bundle discounts from $5 to $4.

    Hey, Ma Bell, you look really, really cheap when you pull a stunt like that.

    This was preceded by what was truly negative option billing with the e-bill vs. paper bill $2 per month penalty. I hope Bell gets sued for that one.

    And didn’t you guys raise the basic landline rate within the past year as well?

    Another irritant: The way Bell announces rate hikes is very sneaky. Granted, it’s mentioned on the bill in advance, but it’s in fine print and I bet a lot of people don’t even notice it.

    Many times, I missi it myself. Actually, I found out about it via Toronto Star columnist Ellen Roseman. I think you know this fine lady. She talks about you all the time in the paper.

    I have to admit that it’s not all negative. Kudos for Bell for dropping the Internet modem rental requirement.

    I also find Bell extremely reliable and fast as an Internet service provider.

    Also, contrary to some horror stories I read about Bell’s custoemr service, I’ve never had a bad experience. I find the service is courteous, prompt and professional.

    I once had a connection problem and the Bell technician came right away and fixed it at no charge, even though the problem was created during recent home renovations and wasn’t Bell’s fault. I wsa impressed by that.

    Because of the positives, I’m reluctant to switch to the competition. But I’m afraid that one more irritant would be enough for me to consider other options, if I find the billing starts to ge frustrating and out of control.

  10. I’m really surprised so many people are still with the major telecoms (BHell, Rogers, etc.). There are much less expensive alternatives for land line phone and internet with better customer service as well.

    I signed up with Teksavvy 3 years ago and save $40/month on phone and internet. Their customer service is excellent.

  11. I’m disgusted with just how much of money grabbing these companies are doing. For example, Rogers wants to charge me a $50 “administrative fee” to unlock my cell phone.

    I’ve been the sole owner of the phone and= had it for over three years. I’m in good standing and am currently out of contract, paying month-to-month.

    When I used to work for AT&T, as long as you met requirements like that, it was free to unlock the device. But no, just to unlock my phone so I can use a local service when I travel internationally, it’s $50.

    There’s no call for it, none. I could accept a $5-$10 administrative fee, but $50 – more than starting a new account! – is just excessively greedy.

  12. I just got off the phone with Bell’s rep from the Loyalty Department. I told her I think I’m paying too much for the 2 services I get from them (home phone land line and internet fibe 12).

    Before taxes, for home phone, I was paying $25.02 for the line, $2 for nonpublished number, $0.17 for emergency 911, and $2.80 for touch tone = $29.99 a month. I just got the bill for this month and the line cost went up by $2, making it $27.02, on top of the 3 other fees. This worked out to $31.99, PLUS taxes – ridiculous!

    For internet in November, I was paying $3.95 for modem rental, $54.95 for FIBE12 with 60 gigs bandwidth, and $5 for extra 40 gigs a month. Bell increased the modem rental by $1, starting December 2011. Then in February 2012, it increased my FIBE12 connection by $2. This worked out to $66.90 a month PLUS tax.

    Bell lowered my home phone charge to $24.92 a month for one year. It also cut my Internet charge to $48.95 for 75 gigs bandwidth and increased my speed from 12 mps download, 1 mps upload, to 15 mps download, and 10 mps upload. It’s giving me an extra 25 gigs of bandwidth free of charge. And I will no longer be charged for modem rental from now on.

    It seemed like a good deal, so I agreed to the changes. Someone is coming in a couple of days to speed up my internet modem/router. However, I just browsed around on Bell’s site, and for FIBE15, new customers only have to pay $26.97 a month for the first 6 months.

    Why do new customers always get a way better deal, compared to us loyal customers who have been with Bell for decades?!

    I’m contemplating whether I should call back and ask for a better deal. Should I call back? Or would this make me sound too greedy?

    As for all the fees on top of the $2 paper bill fee, touch tone fee for $2.80 and emergency fee for $0.17 – other companies like TekSavvy don’t charge for this! It’s stupid how we have to pay for touch tone – since the MAJORITY of Canadians have have touch tone. This should be free of charge.

  13. I recently got some really outrageous — if quite helpful — advice from a Bell agent that I thought I should share.

    I was calling to update info for a pre-paid service and needed to talk to an agent. Having called the indicated number, I found myself trapped in automated Bell hell. I could find no sequence of choices that would take me to a real live agent (no jokes, OK).

    I finally called the general number and waited — not too long — to get an agent on the line. When I explained that I was calling about pre-paid, he instantly said he couldn’t help. Miraculously he stayed on the line long enough to hear my automated-hell story. His suggestion was remarkable in many ways.

    1. He suggested choosing “don’t know the number” and when the system asked for my number (yes, oxymoronically), just to type in gibberish. “Then the system will connect you to an agent.” How outrageous is that?

    2. Even more outrageous… it worked. I had to try several times to overwhelm the system’s assumption that Bell customers are idiots, but eventually I got connected. Dumb, huh?

    3. This advice was happily described by the agent as “the way you do it!” as if it made perfect sense to have a customer service system operate like it was a scene from the Keystone Kops.

    Oh, wait a minute… that’s how corporations like Enbridge evidently function to prevent oil spills and such. This kind of modus operandi must be OK.

    Hope this helps.

  14. My contract with Rogers ended in August and I decided to cancel all services with them and switch to another service provider which cost less.

    Nnow Rogers have sent me a bill for $121.17 for cancelling my services with them, even though my contract has ended.

    I called about it and was told the fee is for the bundled services I had with them. I was never told that cancelling at the contract period would result in a charge for the bundled services. This is not fair.

  15. Being a great service provider has become something of the past for Bell. My family has always been a Bell customer and were going good till recently I got a shocker.

    I had asked for an ebill from the last month and to stop sending me the paper bill, for which I was being charged an additional $2. I failed to receive an ebill, but got the traditional one, and when I called them I was passed from one rep to an another. I ultimately had to hang up.

    I ended up writing to them and hoping for a favorable reply, so I would not receive any more bills in my mailbox. They were good, but lately their customer support has gone bad.

  16. Hi Ellen,
    Its a very useful blog to educate myself. I am suffering a situation of phone contract. I signed up with Vonage World phone contract for one year in June. It offered me free unlimited calling to 60 different countries including Pakistan where I mostly call long distance.

    I just received a notification last week that free unlimited calling to Pakistan is no longer offered from next month (1 Oct_2012). This phone is useless for me to keep for the rest of the year without free calling to Pakistan.

    Now what should I do to avoid early cancellation fees if cancelled before one year?

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