PIAC says Bell owes overcharged customers more than just a refund

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has found that Bell Canada overcharged for party-line terminal sets, but the Commission concluded Bell provided enough compensation.

Bell Canada must, according to CRTC regulations, provide full refunds with interest to any

customer that is overcharged.

The unauthorized rate increase was the subject of an application to the CRTC from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) representing Bell party-line customers. PIAC submitted that Bell had overcharged for party-line terminal sets by $2.35 per month. The tariffed rate is $2.95, but Bell was charging subscribers $5.30. PIAC stated Bell Canada was negligent in allowing the error to occur and left the overcharge in place for more than two years.

In response, Bell investigated the problem and found it had not converted some party-line subscribers to a new Universal Services Order Cost that represented the tariffed rate in June, 1999.

As a result, those customers were charged the unregulated rate. The problem was detected in July 2002. Bell then proceeded with a refund strategy. The carrier told all customers who had been overcharged they would receive a full refund plus interest. Bell refunded money to 28,176 subscribers, which represented over 90 per cent of all customers affected.

The total value of the refund came to $1,190,000. Each customer received on average $43.23.

Bell attempted to track down the inactive customers but was unable to locate 2,948 former customers. The amount to be refunded remains at $16,900. Bell told the CRTC it would cost $170,000 to track these people down.

Although the Commission determined that Bell has acted responsibly in refunding 98 per cent of the overcharge plus interest to 90 per cent of the affected customers, PIAC felt Bell should go further to compensate customers for the improper charges by an additional credit to their accounts. PIAC also expressed concern about ongoing compliance with tariffs.

In response, the Commission indicated that it had addressed this issue through Telecom Public Notice CRTC 2003-4, in which the CRTC announced that it would designate inspectors.

The old saying of “”buyer beware”” seems to appropriate even when it comes to regulated charges of a regulated industry.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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