Canada’s telecom regulator has joined angry customers in questioning the growing number of fees that wireless providers charge when people call customer service to make changes to their account.
The telcos’ goal is to encourage customers to instead make their own changes online — using the free, self-serve option.
But the plan may backfire as customers who prefer the human touch, and the CRTC, raise concerns over the fees.
“It’s a scam,” said Fido customer Paul Doroshenko of Vancouver.
Starting on May 14, Fido, which is owned by Rogers, will charge $10 when customers call to request certain account transactions that can be done online. They include making a payment, updating contact information or one’s payment method, and resetting a voicemail password.
“They’re making so much money on me every month … and then they want to charge $10 for a simple service call?” said Doroshenko, whose preference is to call customer service rather than make changes online.
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Rogers told CBC News that the “vast majority” of Fido customers already use its free online services, which allow them to easily manage their accounts at their convenience.
“As more Canadians choose self-serve options to manage their day-to-day needs, we’re continually investing in digital services to give customers more control,” spokesperson Bill Killorn said in an email.
Last August, the Rogers discount brand chatr began charging a similar $5 fee, and on May 2, Bell and its discount brand Virgin Mobile began charging $10 when customers call to change their rate plan or data package before their billing cycle is up.
Similar to Fido, Telus’s discount brand, Koodo, charges $10 for various account changes when done over the phone. Telus didn’t say when Koodo started charging the fee.
Telus and Bell’s main brands also charge fees for a few different account changes when customers call in.
Customers can also do all these transactions online themselves, for free.
CRTC steps in
The growing list of service fees has raised eyebrows at the CRTC. Last month, the telecom regulator sent a letter to providers stating that it is “concerned that the practice may be inconsistent” with the Wireless Code — the mandatory code of conduct for wireless companies.
The CRTC wouldn’t tell CBC News precisely how the practice may violate the code, but its letter asks companies charging the fees to provide details, including how customers are informed about them.
Rogers, Bell and Telus each told CBC News that their fees comply with the Wireless Code.
Consumer advocate John Lawford suggests the CRTC is stepping in because it has likely received many customer complaints about the fees.
“I think people were complaining in big numbers and fairly loudly because it seemed to them to be contrary to fairness and what they expected from a company,” said Lawford, executive director of the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
“It should be a cost of doing business.”
What about my contract?
Mary Marks of Montreal believes the new Fido fees are unfair. She signed up her husband with Fido years ago and manages her family’s phone plans.
“I can do anything online; it’s not a problem,” she said. “But I like to call in.”
The $10 charge isn’t mentioned in the contract, she said.
“It’s a change of contract. Do I have a choice about it? Do I not? None of this has been explained.”
The Wireless Code states that providers can’t change key terms in a contract without a customer’s consent, and that all one-time fees must be spelled out.
In its CRTC submission, Rogers said account transaction charges don’t need to be disclosed in a contract because they’re simply “administrative fees” that apply only at certain times to certain customers.
Rogers, Bell and Telus each said in their submissions that they inform customers about the fees in various ways, including on their website and over the phone when customers make a request that will cost them.
“Our full disclosure of all fees is always in compliance with the Wireless Code,” Bell spokesperson Nathan Gibson said in an email.
The three big telcos also said the fee can be waived for certain individuals, such as someone with special needs, and that customers are never charged when they call to simply request information.
End of paper billing?
The CRTC is also scrutinizing another service that wireless providers increasingly want customers to solely access online: their bills.
In June, PIAC and a seniors group filed a complaint with the CRTC after Koodo stopped mailing customers paper bills.
The CRTC has yet to rule on the matter.
Meanwhile, Telus went paperless in November and Fido followed suit last month.
Telus told CBC News its customers can still request a paper bill. Rogers said Fido is investing in online services to better serve its customers, and that it is happy to work with those concerned about moving to online billing.
Customer Paul Doroshenko says he got nowhere when he complained to Fido about the end of his paper bills. The criminal lawyer runs his own law practice and said the bill’s arrival by mail every month helped him keep track of one of his many business expenses.
“It makes me angry,” Doroshenko said of the end of paper bills and the coming $10 fee.
“There’s so little service being provided.”