Bell Canada guilty of illegally charging ExpressVu late fee
Bell Canada Inc. has been illegally charging ExpressVu television customers a monthly late fee, an Ontario court has ruled in a case that has implications for other service providers.
In a ruling released late Monday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell found the company's $25 late fee — which is tacked on top of interest charges — was illegal under the Criminal Code.
The company has been charging the fee to about 33,000 of its 1.7 million ExpressVu satellite customers each month, according to court documents.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2005 by Peter De Wolf, a resident of Braeside, Ont., near Ottawa.
De Wolf said he paid the fee 10 times between January 2001 and May 2006 and, coupled with interest charges, it totalled more than 60 per cent of his bill, an amount that is illegal under federal law.
De Wolf's lawyer said the decision was a big win for consumers.
"It's going to have implications well beyond this particular service provider charging late fees," she said. "We're aware that Bell ExpressVu's competitors engage in the same practice.... We certainly know the late fees levied are comparable."
Mark Langton, a spokesman for Bell, said the company was still reviewing the decision. He wouldn't say whether the company will appeal.
Rebate to be determined
A separate hearing will be held to determine how much money Bell is on the hook to repay.
Bell had argued the late fee was not an interest charge but rather a cost the company incurred for collecting overdue bills, a position Justice Perell found had little basis in fact.
"I regard this as an absurd result that reveals that ExpressVu's argument is unsound," he said in his decision.
Bell is embroiled in a host of other class-action lawsuits. Along with Canada's other wireless companies, Bell is being sued for allegedly misrepresenting the system access fee charged to cellphone subscribers as a government charge.
It is also being sued for throttling internet speeds and, along with Telus Corp., for imposing charges on incoming text messages.