Submitted: The Two Sides Team October 28, 2013
Big telecom firms in charge $2 to mail statements each month. You may get a break if the broadcast regulator agrees to stamp out these charges.
via The Star
27 October 2013
Back in 2010, I wrote a column about Telus Mobility and subsidiary Koodo adding a $2 monthly fee for bills sent by mail.
"We're being charged an additional $24 a year, not for a service but for how we're billed for a service," said Edward Carson, who protested the policy. "We're being asked to pay for delivery of the bill we're going to pay."
Telus had urged customers to go paperless for a decade. When the majority switched to online bills, the company decided to penalize the rest.
"It doesn't make sense for our customers who have chosen online billing to subsidize those customers who are choosing to receive paper bills, the more expensive option," said company spokeswoman Megan Fielding.
Then, Bell Canada joined the trend. Customers who had internet service bundled with phone service had to switch to electronic bills by June 1, 2010, or face a monthly $2 charge for paper bills.
Adding fees was "part of our ongoing effort to be environmentally friendly and improve the level of billing information," Bell told customers.
Many felt it was part of an ongoing effort to boost profits.
Rogers followed suit last spring, tacking a toonie onto bills mailed to clients who didn't download and print them from their home computers. Some were surprised to see Rogers add HST, bringing the paper bill charge to $2.26.
"I closed my cable account when they charged me $2.26 for a paper bill," said Randel Cuenca. "I told them it was OK to charge new customers, but not existing customers. It leaves a bad impression."
Since I was getting hundreds of complaints, I figured the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission was bombarded as well.
It seems that was the case. In the Oct. 16 throne speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to end extra charges to receive bills. On Oct. 23, two consumer groups applied to the CRTC to eliminate them immediately.
"As our own research shows, these surcharges are highly unpopular," said the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Consumers Association of Canada in their application.
In a survey done by Environics Research, 83 per cent of Canadians agreed that people should have the right to get a paper bill in the mail without a fee. It was part of a company's cost of doing business.
One third said they weren't comfortable with receiving bills electronically. And 54 per cent admitted to paying a fee to receive paper bills.
In response to complaints, the CRTC had asked telecom firms to disclose their extra billing fees. It found they ranged from 99 cents to $4.
Fee exemptions "appear to differ substantially between service providers and also appear to be somewhat arbitrary," the two consumer groups said.
I've gone to bat for some people who should have been exempted from fees. In two Bell cases, the clients were over 75 and had only landline service, with no access to computers.
In a truly competitive market, the major telecom firms wouldn't all impose punitive surcharges, the consumer groups said. People need access to their monthly statements in order to understand them and act upon them.
"Customers should not be penalized for simply continuing to use a feature that had always been part of their communications service," they said.
The addition of extra fees is a common trend. But telecom is still regulated, so there's a good chance the odious paper bill fee will be stamped out.
It took three years, but the government is finally on the case. The banks, which also charge for paper bills, could be next to feel customers rage.
More columns by Ellen Roseman
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