BCE pays $10.2 million to settle with watchdog

Tue Jun 28, 2011 5:07pm EDT
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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's Competition Bureau said on Tuesday that BCE Inc's Bell Canada unit had agreed to pay C$10 million ($10.2 million) and to stop making what the watchdog called "misleading representations" about its prices.

Bell, which sells telephone, television and Internet services, said it "fundamentally disagrees" with the bureau's position on its advertising but paid the penalty, the maximum allowed, to resolve the issue.

The watchdog said Bell had charged its customers prices higher than those advertised across a range of its services since December 2007, with additional mandatory fees, such as those related to TouchTone phones and modem rental, hidden in fine print.

"When a price is offered to consumers, it must be accurate. Including a fine-print disclaimer is no license to advertise prices that are not available," said Commissioner of Competition Melanie Aitken.

The bureau cited an example of Bell advertising a bundle for home phone, Internet and television starting as low as $69.90 per month. It said the lowest possible price a customer would pay, including the mandatory fees, was $80.27.

Bell agreed to modify non-compliant advertisements within 60 days but said it stood by its practices.

"Bell's advertising has always complied with all applicable laws and been comparable with common advertising practice past and present in the communications marketplace and other industries in Canada," the company said in a statement.

The competition watchdog took Bell rival Rogers Communications to court last November with a charge its discount wireless brand was misleading consumers over claims it had fewer dropped calls than new telecom rivals entering the market.

That case is ongoing.

(Reporting by Alastair Sharp; editing by Peter Galloway and Rob Wilson)

<p>The Bell logo is seen on the company's building in downtown Montreal February 9, 2011. REUTERS/Shaun Best</p>