Charge irks res­i­dents

Bell Aliant spokes­woman calls billing to ex­pand lo­cal call­ing ‘per­ma­nent change’

The Compass - - Front page - BY ANDREW ROBIN­SON editor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Up­per Is­land Cove less than thrilled by an on­go­ing charge to their monthly phone bills for Com­mu­nity Call­ing.

If a long-dis­tance plan makes all numbers provincewide free to call, why would one still need to pay $5.75 per month for calls to-and-from a neigh­bour­ing ex­change to be deemed lo­cal?

That’s an ar­gu­ment be­ing made in Up­per Is­land Cove, where one res­i­dent with a Bell Aliant bun­dled pack­age for phone, ca­ble tele­vi­sion and in­ter­net is sick of pay­ing the ex­tra money to her ser­vice provider.

“A few years ago, I knew it was hap­pen­ing, but you sort of for­get it,” said the woman, who did not want her name to be pub­lished.

She re­cently con­tacted Bell Aliant to make some changes to her ser­vice.

At that time, she asked about the $5.75 charge, which the com­pany refers to as Com­mu­nity Call­ing. It al­lows the 589 ex­change for Up­per Is­land Cove to be treated as a lo­cal ex­change in Carbonear and Har­bour Grace. It’s charged on a monthly ba­sis.

“We don’t need that any­more — it’s ob­so­lete,” she told the Com­pass. “We have pack­ages on our phones. We have long dis­tance for free. A lot of peo­ple have cell­phones now, so we have na­tion­wide call­ing on that. So basically, we’re pay­ing $5.75 per month for a ser­vice that’s ob­so­lete.”

Ac­cord­ing to a spokes­woman for Bell Aliant, lo­cal gov­ern­ments ini­ti­ate Com­mu­nity Call­ing re­quests with ser­vice providers in or­der to ex­pand lo­cal call­ing, adding this can only hap­pen af­ter a cus­tomer bal­lot vote is held.

“This process was com­pleted with full reg­u­la­tory over­sight by the CRTC (Cana­dian Ra­dio-tele­vi­sion and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion), and was iden­ti­fied as a per­ma­nent change to our net­work and to lo­cal call­ing ser­vice in these com­mu­ni­ties,” the spokes­woman said in a state­ment emailed to the Com­pass.

The res­i­dent who spoke with the Com­pass be­lieves the charge has gone on long enough with­out be­ing ques­tioned for its ne­ces­sity, adding its ne­ces­sity should be re­viewed.

“It’s like you don’t even have the right to take it off be­cause it was voted on 20-some­thing years ago,” she said.

She also ac­knowl­edged the charge wouldn’t be ap­plied if she went with an­other ser­vice provider, though she’s re­luc­tant to switch due to the qual­ity of other ser­vices in­cluded in her bun­dled pack­age.

“I was told by some­one in Up­per Is­land Cove that if you phone Bell and com­plain, they’ll take it off, or you threaten to switch users. But I didn’t threaten that,” she said, adding the per­son she spoke with from the com­pany said ev­ery res­i­dent us­ing Bell Aliant’s phone ser­vice would be charged.

Up­per Is­land Cove Mayor Philip Lun­dri­gan said a res­i­dent came be­fore coun­cil about a year ago to ad­dress the same is­sue. Ge­orge Adams, who was the town’s mayor at that time, wrote a let­ter to Bell Aliant and later met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the com­pany.

“In not so many words, the re­sponse was that if you’re not happy with the charge, you can take your busi­ness else­where — there are other providers,” Lun­dri­gan said. “They have you over a bar­rel.

If you want their ser­vice, you have to pay the fee.”

The town also re­ceived a re­sponse from the CRTC about the mat­ter. The CRTC said it would only get in­volved in re­view­ing this sort of predica­ment if the area was served by a sin­gle ser­vice provider and fees deemed un­nec­es­sary or ex­ces­sive were known to be charged.

Ac­cord­ing to Lun­dri­gan, Bell Aliant sur­veyed its cus­tomer base about the pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing calls to Carbonear and Har­bour Grace lo­cal in ex­change for a fee. At the time, peo­ple found it to be a de­sir­able ser­vice and voted in favour of the Com­mu­nity Call­ing charge.

“If a sur­vey were done again, they’d likely get a re­sponse that says, ‘No, we don’t want the fee any­more be­cause we have free long-dis­tance call­ing,’” the mayor said.

The Bell Aliant spokes­woman noted the Cus­tomer Call­ing charge is part of the ba­sic lo­cal ser­vice charge and not part of a long-dis­tance plan.

“The ba­sic lo­cal ser­vice charge for cus­tomers in Up­per Is­land Cove is the same or lower than in com­mu­ni­ties with­out Com­mu­nity Call­ing,” she said.

The res­i­dent who spoke with the Com­pass has been in touch with some pro­vin­cial politi­cians and the town coun­cil about the mat­ter and in­tends to con­tact the CRTC about the mat­ter.

ANDREW ROBIN­SON/THE COM­PASS

This $5.75 per month charge for Bell Aliant cus­tomers to make calls to-and­from Carbonear or Har­bour Grace lo­cal doesn’t sit well with all res­i­dents.

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