Bell Found Liable for Charging 911 Fees for Non-Existent Service in Northwest Territories

by Istvan Fekete on May 20, 2013

Bell was found liable to tens of thousands of wireless subscribers located in Canada’s North, for charging 75 cents per month for a 911 service that didn’t exist in that area.

The lawsuit started in March in Yellowknife, making the first class-action lawsuit trial in Northwest Territories. However, the original lawsuit dates back to 2007, when two Yellowknife citizens, James Anderson and his son Samuel, first filed the case, complaining Bell was charging $9 a year — or 75 cents per month — for a 911 service that isn’t available in their area. The 911 operator isn’t available anywhere in the Northwest Territories: users in the N.W.T, Yukon and Nunavut paid the amount for a service they didn’t receive. Whitehorse does have a 911 service, while locals in the aforementioned territories can call a 10-digit number for emergency services.

At this stage, the first step was to determine whether Bell is liable or not – the amount it owes to its customers in damages will be determined at a second stage of this trial. It can expect to have to pay hefty damages, though, as the lawyer for the plaintiffs initially estimate potential damages between $1 million and $3 million.

So after five years of legal wrangling, Justice Ron Veal of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories has found Bell Mobility liable. He denied, however, a request for extra punitive damages in the case.

Keith Landy, the Andersons’ lawyer, said the Friday ruling set a precedent, as this is the first class-action lawsuit in the Northwest Territories. “Cellphone has become a necessity today. And by virtue of them having monthly fees to pay, and then having to pay a charge where the service isn’t provided, is certainly something that needed to be corrected in our view.”

From Bell’s position, the lawsuit goes beyond what they initially thought the trial was about. They are silent, though, about those internal emails shedding light on the company’s internal dispute over the 911 service fee.

“We’re pleased the court ruled in our favour on the main issues certified for trial, and found that Bell Mobility is not required to provide live 911 operators. That is the responsibility of local governments,” he said in an email statement.

“But we will certainly appeal its decision on a matter that hadn’t even been certified for trial – i.e. whether customers in those areas are exempt from paying the fees charged to all customers nationally.”

Jason Laszlo, a representative from Bell Media relations, said the company will appeal the ruling and hopes to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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