Ever wonder why sometimes you can't get the delicious advertised price of some services offered by BCE Inc.'s Bell Canada? That's because they didn't exist, according to the federal Competition Bureau.
Which is why after a seven month investigation Bell agreed to pay Ottawa $10 million plus another $100,000 in legal costs after it entered into a consent agreement with the bureau to stop making misleading ads.
In a news release issued Tuesday the bureau said it determined that since December 2007 Bell has charged higher prices than advertised for many of its services, including home phone, Internet, satellite TV and wireless. The advertised prices were not in fact available because additional mandatory fees for things like TouchTone, modem rental and digital television services, were hidden from consumers in fine-print disclaimers.
“I am pleased that Bell cooperated with the Bureau's investigation and is taking steps to correct the misleading advertisements,” competition commissioner Melanie Aitken said in the release. “When a price is offered to consumers, it must be accurate. Including a fine-print disclaimer is no licence to advertise prices that are not available.”
As an example, the release said, Bell's Web site had been advertising a bundle for home phone, Internet and television services starting as low as $69.90 per month. However, no one could buy the bundle for that. The lowest possible price, including the mandatory fees, was $80.27—approximately 15 per cent higher than advertised. Customers purchasing any of the services individually were also faced with the same misleading information, as additional fees were excluded from those advertised prices as well.
A bureau spokesman said the investigation started last November after it received complaints.
Bell quickly put out its own news release saying it “fundamentally disagrees” with the bureau's position because the telco has always complied with all applicable laws and followed common advertising practices. But it wanted to resolve the issue and pay the fine.
Meanwhile, the bureau's attempt to prevent Rogers Communications Inc. from claiming its Chatr wireless service has fewer dropped calls than new wireless carriers is expected to be heard in an Ontario court in the fall.