One of Canada’s best known cell phone companies refuses to stop billing customer for a charge that was purportedly a government-mandated fee. Company abolished the charge for new customers.
I signed up with Fido years ago because they seemed to have reasonable prices and friendly helpful personnel at their West Georgia Street office in Vancouver, which they closed a few years back.
I don’t remember how many contracts I signed with Fido, the last one expired last year, but one charge on my bill always stuck out like a sore thumb, the “System Access Fee”. Billed in addition to the monthly charge, it amounts to over 30-percent of the basic monthly charge. When I first signed up Fido told me it’s a government-mandated fee. They said “Everyone has to pay it. All companies have to charge it.”
When I heard from a friend that the System Access Fee had been abolished about two years ago and Fido stopped charging him the fee after he called, I decided to speak to Fido’s customer service. With me they were adamant that they would not only not issue any rebate, but they wouldn’t remove the charge from my bill unless I signed a new contract for two years or go on a plan that costs more but gives me less for the money.
My friend suggested that I try again with the customer service. He said “You probably got somebody overseas. Phone companies use people overseas who pretend to be in North America. I talked to a customer agent in Quebec. She was very nice and reasonable about the whole thing.”
When I called the second time the other day I got the same comedy albeit with a different choreography. First, the man with the accent said he can remove the charge by moving me on a “new plan” that would give me fewer minutes at a higher monthly charge. After I tried to explain to him politely in so many words that I didn’t believe I was an idiot, “But it just doesn’t make any sense, does it?”, the matter was escalated to a man without an accent.
The gentleman without an accent offered to put me on a two-year contract that would remove the charge and save me money. He told me that the System Access Fee had not been abolished but built into the new plans. “It’s still there” he said. He told me it’s not a government-mandated fee but a fee designed to finance Fido’s “towers.” Fido’s towers? To buy dog food for the pooch? In other words, Fido, and possibly other cell phone companies, decided to hide part of their revenues under an official sounding title to make their charges look cheaper. I can think of a few other creative names such as System Cleaning Fee to cover janitorial expenses, and System Downtime Surtax to cover executive vacations in the Caribbean.
Is this legal?
BC'sBusiness Practices & Consumer Protection Act describes as a “deceptive act” or "practice" a representation or any conduct by a supplier “that has the capability, tendency or effect of deceiving or misleading a consumer.” There’s a class action lawsuit in progress at the Supreme Court of British Columbia based on allegations that airlines have been collecting from passengers a fuel surcharge represented as a tax and pocketing the money.
Fido doesn't list any executive contacts, and a customer is required to go through four levels of an orchestrated complaint process as described above before his or her complaint is heard by the president's office, whoever that may be. The company is now owned by Rogers Telecommunications. I've sent an email to the media representative listed on its web site and will publish their official response here, if any.
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