(from November 22nd edition of the Yukon News)
Check your cellphone bills. Carefully.
Bell cellphone customers are, once again, finding massive, unforeseen charges on their monthly phone bills — this time for phantom long-distance calls to and from Beaver Creek.
The charges appear to stem from calls dialed in Whitehorse to local phone numbers that are being bounced to a cellphone tower in Beaver Creek.
But Bell is treating those bounced calls as “long-distance,” and will bill customers 30 cents per minute even though the problem appears to lie with the company’s overloaded Whitehorse cell network.
The continuing billing problems have Bell contract-holders, many of whom believe they have “free” local calling on evenings and weekends, wincing every time they have to open their bills.
“I’m scared to get my bills now, because I don’t know what’s going to be on them,” said Rochelle Thompson, a 32-year-old Yukon College student who owns a Bell cellphone.
“It’s an emergency phone; I don’t use it an awful lot,” she said. “But every time I turn around, it’s another $10, $15. I don’t have anyone to call long distance. If I do, I use my landline.”
Thompson’s latest bill includes a $7.50 charge for long-distance calls to and from Beaver Creek.
She didn’t make any long-distance calls during the period and has never visited the small community, she said.
Her frustrations with Bell are piling up.
Thompson wrangled with the company for hours on the telephone to reverse a $76 charge for one screensaver that she downloaded on the recently launched, but poorly explained, 1X network.
Bell forced Thompson to agree to sign a $42 contract for six months of unlimited web browsing before it would scratch the charge, she said.
Thompson, who is taking business administration courses, is disgusted with Bell, but has no way out because of massive fees the company charges for breaking cellphone contracts.
“They’ve got me tied. I either pay the bill every month — whatever they want to charge me — because there’s nothing I can do; I don’t have the $400 to cancel that contract,” said Thompson. “I’m trying to keep a good credit rating, but this is screwing me every month.”
Thompson demanded Bell explain how she had incurred long-distance charges to and from Beaver Creek.
She got a rather nonsensical response, she said.
“They informed me that what it was is when the tower’s too busy, that calls getw bounced to Beaver Creek and there’s nothing they can do about it,” said Thompson.
“They told me, ‘We’re going to erase it this one time, but then there’s nothing we can do about it.’ I freaked out,” said an exasperated Thompson.
Sameer Singh is another customer bitten by the latest Bell Mobility fiasco.
Singh received a $116.70 cellphone bill for the period of October 7 to November 7.
Similar to Thompson’s bill, more than $50 of Singh’s current bill stems from long-distance charges for calls to and from Beaver Creek.
“I’m mystified. I imagine some of them are local calls, but some of them I think are completely out of nowhere,” said Singh.
Beginning October 20, his bill itemizes 68 calls over a one-week period to or from the small community.
Before October 20, there is no mention of Beaver Creek on the six-page bill.
After that date, however, Beaver Creek is everywhere on the page.
Singh isn’t sure the calls are just local ones being bounced to Beaver Creek.
“I don’t normally get this many calls — that’s 68 calls in seven days,” he said. “That’s like 10 calls a day. I don’t get nearly that many.”
When Singh called Bell Mobility demanding the charges be removed, he was told Bell would investigate.
But, to his amazement, he was also told if Bell found the charges were not the company’s fault, he would be billed a $36 “investigation fee.”
Thompson got a different resolution.
And two of her friends who also incurred long-distance fees were told they would have to buy a $12, unlimited long-distance contract before Bell would scrub the fees, she said.
Officials with Bell Mobility Canada, and a local representative for Bell, Latitude Wireless and NMI Mobility were contacted, but did not return phone calls.
Thompson wants to end her relationship with Bell but can’t.
“I don’t want them to have any more of my money.
“They screw you … I’m so tired. I’m so stressed out,” she said.