Ottawa presses Telus, BCE to change pricing policy

Wed Jul 9, 2008 5:28pm EDT
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By Louise Egan

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government tried to preempt a consumer revolt against two leading phone companies on Wednesday, demanding explanations from the wireless units of BCE Inc and Telus Corp on their new pricing policy for text messages.

Both companies announced this week they would begin charging some customers for incoming text messages, which have been free until now.

"The decisions ... are ones that consumers have expressed concern about," Industry Minister Jim Prentice told reporters at a Calgary, Alberta, press conference. "We've decided to sit down and discuss this with the companies that have announced these intended price increases."

Prentice sent letters to the chief executives of Bell Mobility, a unit of BCE, and Telus asking them to meet with him before August 8, the date Bell plans to introduce its new charge.

The meeting has not yet been scheduled, the minister said.

The meeting -- a highly unusual move by a Conservative government that has sought to partly deregulate the telecommunications industry -- would take place "with a view to finding a solution that provides the best service to consumers at the best price," Prentice said.

Bell and Telus say they will charge 15 Canadian cents per incoming message. Telus said it will begin charging the fee August 24.

Prentice said he was particularly concerned that users could be charged for unsolicited, unwanted or spam messages. While he said he doesn't plan to interfere with the companies' day-to-day operations or decision-making, he's concerned consumers would be charged for spam messages.   Continued...

<p>A Telus retail store is seen in downtown Montreal, June 21, 2007. REUTERS/Shaun Best</p>