Calling in a complaint

Terry Roberts
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Garnish resident accuses Bell Aliant of ripping off customers

Garnish resident Jane Moores doesn't like the look of her Bell Aliant phone bill, and has been on a public crusade to end what she describes as a "rip-off."

But Bell Aliant says it is only doing what customers have asked, which is to provide a service that in many cases is a cost-saving tool.

Garnish resident Jane Moores doesn't like the look of her Bell Aliant phone bill, and has been on a public crusade to end what she describes as a "rip-off."

But Bell Aliant says it is only doing what customers have asked, which is to provide a service that in many cases is a cost-saving tool.

Moores moved to the Burin Peninsula community last fall after living in Ontario for many years.

The retired nurse enjoys nearly everything about her rural lifestyle, except the $5 fee she sees on her monthly bill for the "Garnish community calling plan."

Under the plan, Garnish became a part of the local calling area for Marystown - about 22 kilometres away - in 1997, which means unlimited calling to Marystown for a flat rate of $5 for homeowners and $7.50 for businesses.

But the telecommunications market has changed since community calling plans were established in 40 Newfoundland communities between 1996 and 2000.

Bell Aliant is the only phone service provider in this province, but numerous other companies now provide long-distance calling plans.

Moores, for example, has her long-distance package with Sears. Despite this, she still must pay the $5 fee to Bell Aliant.

Moores has expressed her frustration to the Garnish town council, on open line radio and in media interviews. She has even contacted officials with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, which regulates telecommunications.

Garnish Deputy Mayor Mike Geraghty has also led a charge to have the fee removed. About a year ago, he said he submitted a petition to Bell Aliant containing the signatures of "several hundred" residents of Garnish and nearby Frenchman's Cove.

He said he hasn't heard back from the company.

"Ninety-nine per cent of people here now have long-distance calling plans with Aliant and other suppliers," he said.

A spokeswoman for Bell Aliant, Brenda Reid, said the company is in talks with some communities about cancelling the calling plan. But the plan is regulated by the CRTC, and "there is no mechanism in place at the present time that reverses it," she stated.

The calling plan grew out of a demand by customers in smaller, outlying communities to have more affordable phone service with a regional centre.

Reid said the plan was established with the full co-operation of the CRTC. She said individual plans were created after extensive public consultations, and even a plebiscite in each community.

She said the "vast majority" of customers in Garnish voted in favour of the calling plan.

"They were looking for a solution to call the community where all their services were, including doctors, clinics and schools," she said.

Reid said there's an important distinction between long-distance service and a community calling plan.

She said a community calling plan extends local calling, which requires modifications to the telephone network in a particular area.

She said Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Canada that offers community calling plans.

So are towns like Garnish stuck with the plan?

Not necessarily, said Reid.

"We are always looking at products and services and what kinds of solutions we can give to customers that meet their needs," she said.

She suggested it may take another plebiscite to cancel the plan.

As for a petition from the Town of Garnish, Reid was not aware of one, but said she would look into it.

Geraghty, meanwhile, said Aliant is being discriminatory.

"It's one of the prices we pay for living in rural Newfoundland," he said.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Bell Aliant, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Sears

Geographic location: Garnish, Newfoundland and Labrador, Marystown Ontario Canada

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Recent comments

  • Brad
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    My parents pay a similar fee in the Trinity Bay region. They can call the Carbonear area as a local number (for this $5 a month). The funny thing is, Carbonear can call them at no additional expense. Further, my parents were forced to pay for this even though they did not vote for it and in a newer calling plan they purchase from Bell Aliant monthly plan they get free minutes to this area which they never use completely (IMO - This whole plebiscite was slick business move by Aliant to make extra money knowing that LD rates were dropping).
    AFAIK, there was a petition in that area well. I bet Bell Aliant didn't hear of any complaints from there as well. What a responsible business.

  • Brad
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    My parents pay a similar fee in the Trinity Bay region. They can call the Carbonear area as a local number (for this $5 a month). The funny thing is, Carbonear can call them at no additional expense. Further, my parents were forced to pay for this even though they did not vote for it and in a newer calling plan they purchase from Bell Aliant monthly plan they get free minutes to this area which they never use completely (IMO - This whole plebiscite was slick business move by Aliant to make extra money knowing that LD rates were dropping).
    AFAIK, there was a petition in that area well. I bet Bell Aliant didn't hear of any complaints from there as well. What a responsible business.