Are you Checking it twice?

Moira Baird
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Are you being charged a fee on your phone bill for a service you're not receiving

Its called a network charge on your Bell Aliant phone bill and its a monthly network access fee the company charges for long-distance packages.

But some people have been charged that $2.95 fee, even though they dont have long-distance packages with Aliant.

If so, they could be paying twice, since some other long-distance providers charge a similar fee.

That was the case for Aubrey Smith, a retired teacher in Grand Falls-Windsor, who discovered the fee on his Aliant bill for local phone service.

His long-distance service is with Primus.

But for five years Smith paid Aliants network access fee for its long-distance service. He knows this because he keeps his bills.

I was never with Aliant, said Smith. It was an erroneous charge.

He says Aliant offered a years refund, but he declined it because he had been charged the fee longer than that. Next, he wrote Aliant CEO Frank Fagan, who replied and assured Smith the matter would be cleared up.

They didnt make it easy, said Smith. But they finally paid me about $150 plus interest and took it off my bill gradually.

That credit was applied over the span of a year and ran out a few months ago.

Smith advises people take a closer look at their phone bill.

I think theres a lot of people out there that this is being done to, he said. Its buyer beware and check your bills.

The network access fee started in January 2001.

At the time, it was introduced to pay for expansions and upgrades to the national telecommunications network as more long-distance providers started offering unlimited calling plans and Internet services.

Starting in May, the fee will increase to $5.95 per month.

Bell Aliant spokeswoman Brenda Reid says the fee is charged to any customer using the companys long-distance services, such as unlimited access or pay-per-minute plans.

If you have none of that then, no, you should not be paying the access fee.

There are some other exceptions.

Aliant customers who have signed up for a bundle value pack any combination of long distance, Internet or cellphone services dont pay the network fee.

If thats the case, then we waive the network access charge.

When long-distance packages are cancelled, Reid says the network fee is supposed to be cancelled, too.

If not, its likely a billing error, but its up to the customer to point it out.

Aliants general policy is to issue a refund.

Generally speaking, we might go back six months, 12 months whatever is the most reasonable to do, said Reid. Wed need to look at each individuals history.

All Aliant phone bills list the products and services customers receive, including the network fee. (See illustration below.)

A St. Johns man, who didnt want to be named in this article, recently discovered he has been paying Aliants monthly network access fee since it was introduced.

It seems like negative billing to me, he said. I never did have a long-distance package. I joined YAK when they came along.

Before and after YAK arrived in Newfoundland in November 2003, the man paid the network access fee. He knows this for certain because his wife keeps detailed files of the family bills.

When he first approached Aliant about it, the utility offered a six-month refund. He turned it down. He has since been offered a $194 credit against future bills.

Id rather have the cheque, he said.

This week, he was told a cheque would be issued.

Organizations: Bell Aliant

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland

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