VANCOUVER, British Columbia, April 17 Canada's
telecoms regulator ordered Telus Corp (T.TO) on Thursday to
refund a monthly fee it began charging customers last November
for access to a long-distance system they did not use.
Canada's second largest phone company began charging the
C$2.95 monthly network access fee to customers who used its
local phone service but who never signed up for long-distance
service, either from Telus or another carrier.
The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission
(CRTC) ordered Telus to refund the fee paid by customers during
months in which they never made long-distance calls. People who
did make long-distance calls will not get a refund.
The fee had been challenged by a consumer group, the Public
Interest Advocacy Centre, and by Yak Communications, a small
phone services provider.
The regulator said about 500,000 customers in British
Columbia and Alberta had been charged the fee, but it was not
immediately known how much money Telus would have to refund.
Telus said it was studying the ruling and may appeal it.
"Obviously we're disappointed with this ruling. We don't
agree with the logic that the CRTC applied, and dispute their
fundamental premise," said Shawn Hall, a spokesman for the
Telus had argued the fee helped it recoup the cost of
maintaining the long-distance network it is required to keep in
place even if customers do not use it.
The CRTC ruled that, since these customers did not make
long-distance calls, the access fee amounted to an unauthorized
hike in local rates.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre called the ruling a
partial victory, and said the fee was one result of the CRTC's
own rush to deregulate Canada's phone system, which had gone
largely unnoticed by most consumers.
John Lawford, the group's lawyer, warned that since the
regulator allowed Telus to charge the fee to customers who make
at least one long-distance call each month, similar fees will
likely be adopted by the country's other phone companies.
(Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson)