Canadian telecom bundling deals should be easier to understand, watchdog says

Special limited-time offers from cable, phone and internet providers - we all get them in the mail. But how good are those deals really? One Ontario woman decided to Go Public after her seemly good deal turned into a billing nightmare.

Ontario retiree Patrisha D'Croix is fighting Bell over hundreds of dollars for bundled service

Ontario retiree Patrisha D'Croix is fighting Bell over hundreds of dollars for bundled service 2:21

The deal seemed so good, it was impossible to pass up.

At least that's what Patrisha D'Croix thought when she received a promotional offer from Bell last December.

D'Croix says she signed up for a 12-month deal which included a cable, internet and telephone package for $91.03 a month. There was no upfront fee and a small one-time installation charge.

"Obviously, I jumped on it," D'Croix told the CBC.

But when the bills started coming in, D'Croix says she quickly realized this was no deal.

"My last bill was for $309. Then I got another one for $412. There's not a single bill here that's $91.03."

D’Croix says she called customer service to try to get the billing problems sorted out. But she said no one could resolve the issue. And those bills kept coming in ... and adding up.

"You can't get anybody. Bell is so huge. I mean it's Bell Media, Bell this, Bell that. There's no way to fight them," she said.

D'Croix says she paid Bell what she thought she owed according to that promotional offer she signed up for. When the bills kept coming, she stopped paying and cancelled her service.

According to D’Croix, Bell then sent her a disconnection notice.

That was back in June. D'Croix says she still gets calls from a collection agency.

On mobile? Click here to see D'Croix's bill and disconnection notice

Bell turned down our requests for an interview, but did respond with a written statement. It says D’Croix did sign up for the deal, but says she added a lot of extras that ended up costing her a lot more.

D'Croix says she thought it was all part of the deal.

According to Albert Lee from Bell media relations, D’Croix’s bills also grew when a termination fee was added.

"A $150 early termination fee was also applied to the account when Ms. D’Croix cancelled her services before the end of her contract term,” said Lee.

On mobile? Click here to read full statement from Bell Media Relations

More than 12,000 complaints relate to contracts, billing

Howard Maker, Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) in Canada, works to resolve complaints between consumers and service providers.

Maker says D’Croix’s story is all too familiar.

"Her story is like the story of many other Canadians. They signed up for something. They didn't get what they thought they were getting," he said.

As commissioner for complaints for telecommunications services, Howard Maker is calling on telecom companies to make offers easier for consumers to understand. (CBC)

In fact, more than three quarters of the complaints the CCTS receives about Canadian service providers are contract- and billing-related.

That’s 12,000 Canadians in the last year alone who believed they were buying one thing, only to find they’ve signed up for something different.  

And Maker says those who go through the process of filing a complaint represent only a fraction of the number of Canadians having the same problem.

"I think weak service providers can always do better. We see many complaints in which confusion, misinformation about the terms of the arrangement between the service provider and the customer result in the complaint.

"Clearly, there’s more work to be done on that front."

Next week, the CCTS will release a detailed list of Canada's most-complained-about service providers. But the independent organization gave us a sneak peak at what it found.

The latest numbers show that of six service providers, the one with the most complaints in the last year is Bell.

2013-2014 percentage of complaints by telecom service provider

Bell Canada: 32.20%

Rogers Communications Inc.: 20.98%

Fido (Rogers): 7.98% 

Virgin Mobile Canada (Bell): 7.19% 

Telus Communications Co.: 5.76%

Wind Mobile: 4.50%

Source: Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services

"Our advice to customers is to make sure that they fully understand and that they've read whatever information is available and that if they have any questions, that they make sure they ask before the sign on the dotted line," Maker said.

Maker says consumers should first try and resolve the issue through the service provider and make sure to document those conversations.

If there’s no resolution, consumers can file a complaint through the CCTS. The organization outlines how to do that on its website:

The CCTS says it has a track record of resolving almost 90 per cent of complaints it receives. Its service is free.

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