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Canada’s Dumbest Charge: What Bell had to say

June 17, 2014
Bell still has a number of rotary-dial phone customers. Because these customers don’t pay the touch-tone fee, the CRTC requires us to show the fee as a separate charge for those who do pay it. When rotary-dial service is ultimately wound down, we’ll be able to include the fee in the base rate for all customers.

July 3, 2014
The $2.80 fee is part of the cost of Bell home phone service, except of course for customers who remain on rotary-dial service. We’re required to itemize it separately on the invoices of customers with touch-tone service specifically because customers on rotary don’t pay it. When we discontinue rotary service, we expect that we will no longer be required to itemize it separately. That said, we have no current plans to discontinue rotary service for customers who already have it.  We don’t disclose our total number of home phone customers.

July 11, 2014
The fee would long ago have been included in the cost of Bell home phone service. But because Bell still has a number of rotary-dial phone customers, we itemize it for all home phone customers not on rotary (rotary service is no longer available for new customers but we would need CRTC’s permission to discontinue current service). The total number of Bell residential lines in service at the end of Q1 2014, including rotary dial, was approximately 2.6 million. More information can be found here on BCE.ca.
And while we appreciate the opportunity to interview with you, it will have to be a decline.

October 24, 2014
Sorry, we still don't see the need to pull a Bell person to talk on your show, it's all pretty straightforward. Here is some background we put together for you, I have to believe it covers everything you could need to know. It's basically publicly available info plus what we would say to customers who might ask about it.

We were surprised that Bell’s touch tone fee took top spot in your contest considering it is charged only to Bell Canada home phone customers in Ontario and Québec. The other 4 fees you mentioned affect far more Canadians, they're all fees charged on a national basis, and most if not all generate far more revenue.

In any event, our response to why we charge the touch tone fee remains the same... We continue to serve rotary-dial customers that aren’t charged the fee, because they don’t have touch tone. Because we’re required to list charges on home phone bills, all Bell customers with touch tone (the overwhelming majority of course) see it on their bills.

Here’s more detailed background if you haven’t already found it:

  • Touch tone became Bell Canada’s standard home phone service more than 20 years ago (before that it was optional, with the separate charge). We exempted the large number of customers with rotary service from the charge, stopped selling rotary, and noted the fee on the bills of all other home phone customers.

 

  • In 2001, we asked the regulator for permission to finally discontinue all remaining rotary service and put everyone on touch tone at the same price. Bell Canada was the last major telephone company in Canada to ask to make the change. But the proposal was met with very negative reaction from our customers.

 

  • We withdrew the proposal, continued to serve rotary customers, and charged the touch tone fee only to the home phone customers using it. That takes us back to why the fee continues to appear on most customers’ bills today.

The touch tone fee doesn’t make Bell home phone more expensive. Prices are different by region and provider, but Bell home phone including all charges is comparable in cost with other home phone services across Canada, often less when bundled with Fibe TV or Bell Internet.

The fee is charged only to Bell Canada home phone customers in Ontario and Québec. It is of course not charged to Bell TV, Bell Internet or Bell Mobility customers, though CBC has confused some customers into believing it is.

Some answers to questions customers ask us about the fee:

Has Bell considered asking again for permission to end rotary dial service?
Bell has 22 million total customer connections, and rotary-dial customers are a very small number of our customers now and our overall home phone base is declining. But we continue to serve them with the same high standards we do the newest Bell Mobility customer or CTV viewer. Saskatchewan telephone company SaskTel recently received permission to shut down rotary service and convert all to touch tone. But Saskatchewan has a relatively small population and Sasktel’s 1,000 or so remaining rotary customers are a fraction of the number Bell continues to serve in Ontario and Québec. It would be a big project, but it remains under consideration.

Would that make the “touch tone fee” disappear?
Yes and no. The fee would no longer need to be listed on bills, but the equivalent amount would be part of the total cost of Bell home phone. It already is of course. So the overall price wouldn’t change, and as mentioned that price is generally comparable to other home phone prices. Bell does need to maintain and enhance a massive landline network infrastructure for home phone. The fee revenue (you estimated at $80 million a year) is really a fraction of the $3 billion Bell spends each year on new and upgraded mobile and fibre infrastructure across Canada and our billions in operating costs.

Do we have to itemize it on everyone’s bills?
Bell Canada offers home phone service in parts of Ontario and Québec, in both “forborne” and regulated areas. Forborne areas are where there’s competition in home phone, the vast majority, so they’ve been unregulated since 2007. The CRTC requires us to itemize touchtone in the regulated areas, but does not require us to itemize it in forborne areas. We decided to itemize it for everyone who pays it.

Remember that home phone is now 10% of Bell’s revenue or less. We’ve transformed as a company... Bell Mobility is at least 30%, Fibe/Internet is even more, Bell Media, including of course CBC's #1 rival CTV, is now 13% and growing.

That said, we do understand that “touch tone” is a vintage name, you can trust that we’ve heard before it’s kind of old fashioned. But we saw it as better than making up a new name that didn’t represent what it was actually all about, or not itemizing it on the bills of people we charge it to.