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HissyFitWatch: Bell Loses Net Neutrality Case, Threatens to Bury Complaining Consumers In Legal Fees

The first "bricks of paper" arriving from Bell's attorneys in the case of Bell v. Ordinary Canadian consumers

The first legal “bricks of paper” arriving from Bell’s attorneys in the case of Bell v. Ordinary Canadian consumers arrived at the home of Jean-François Mezei of Pointe-Claire, Que.

A Manitoba university student and consumer groups who won their case against Bell’s preferential treatment of its mobile streaming video service are now being threatened with demands they personally cover Bell’s legal expenses as the phone company appeals the ruling in court.

The dispute involves Bell Mobile TV Service — a $5/mo optional add-on that allows Bell’s mobile customers to stream up to 10 hours of video programming, some of it from Bell-owned television networks like CTV, without it counting against the customer’s usage cap. Each additional hour costs $3. The service prices usage based on time, not data usage, which lets Bell stream very high quality video to customers. Competitors like Netflix do not have this option and their customers are billed based on the amount of data consumed, which is around 800 percent higher than what Bell Mobile TV charges.

University of Manitoba graduate student Benjamin Klass filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 2013 accusing Bell of violating Net Neutrality and creating an anti-competitive marketplace for online video. ​Twelve of the 43 channels available on Mobile TV — including CTV, TSN and The Movie Network — are owned by Bell Media, a subsidiary, like Bell Mobility, of the media behemoth BCE.

Klass alleged the practice was a clear violation of Canada’s laws governing broadcasting: “No Canadian carrier shall, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service or the charging of a rate for it, unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage.”

The CRTC agreed with Klass and in late January ruled in favor of Klass’ complaint, giving Bell and Quebec-based Vidéotron (which offers a similar service) until the end of April to close them down in their present form.

BCE, the parent of Bell Mobility, told the CBC it was “shocked” by the CRTC’s ruling, suspecting the complaining groups mislead regulators into thinking Bell favored its own content over others.

“There’s a hint here that the government believes Bell Mobile TV delivers only Bell Media content,” spokesman Jason Laszlo said. “They should know we offer mobile TV content from all of Canada’s leading broadcasters in English and French.”

Bell_Mobility logoLaszlo added Bell-owned content only comprises 20% of Bell Mobile TV programming and that the ruling would deprive more than 1.5 million current Bell Mobile TV subscribers from getting the service after the spring deadline to shut it down.

The CRTC and consumer groups argue that is beside the point.

“At its core, this decision isn’t so much about Bell or Vidéotron,” CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said at a breakfast luncheon in London, Ont., in late January. “It’s about all of us and our ability to access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice. The CRTC always wants to ensure ­— and this decision supports this goal ­— that Canadians have fair and reasonable access to content. It may be tempting for large vertically integrated companies to offer certain perks to their customers. But when the impetus to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of fair and open access to content, we will intervene.”

Consumer group OpenMedia says Bell’s motivation isn’t to create a level playing field or provide customers with more options for online video. It’s about artificially inflating the cost of accessing services like Netflix and other independent video companies that are innovating away from the traditional pay television package.

“Bell is doing everything in its power to make the Internet more like cable TV,” said OpenMedia campaigns manager Josh Tabish. “They want the power to pick and choose what we see by forcing competing services into a more expensive toll lane online.”

Klass (Image: CBC)

Klass (Image: CBC)

Bell’s legal strategy going forward is an homage to the one American wireless companies used for years to avoid Net Neutrality.

Bell Mobility argues that Bell Mobile TV is a broadcasting service, not a telecommunications service and therefore doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Telecommunications Act.

Since the CRTC was not receptive to that argument, Bell is taking the matter to the Federal Court of Appeal, asking it to overturn the CRTC ruling and grant the company court and legal costs paid for by the Canadian consumers that brought the original complaint.

Jean-François Mezei of Pointe-Claire, Que. is among them and has been the unhappy recipient of several parcels containing “bricks of paper” from FedEx he suspects is just the beginning.

Mezei has been tweeting about ongoing developments in the case, and asked Bell, “how come you have no press release bragging about how Bell Mobility is suing individual citizens who participated in [the CRTC complaint]?”

Klass told CBC News he hasn’t yet made up his mind how to respond to the court filing, but admitted it is unnerving.

“In that regard, it really strikes me as a method of intimidation,” he said. “Right off the bat, it has a chilling effect. It appears that Bell is simply pursuing the argument, that it unsuccessfully made to the CRTC, through the court.”

Bell Canada Customer Called a “Slut” and “Bitch” in E-Mail by Angry Customer Service Representative

Phillip Dampier February 17, 2015 Bell (Canada), Consumer News, HissyFitWatch 1 Comment
Bell customer Leticia Chartier  (Photo: Judith Plamondon, QMI Agency)

Bell customer Leticia Chartier (Photo: Judith Plamondon, QMI Agency)

A Bell Canada customer complaining about a spike in her television and broadband bill from $72 to $105 was called a “slut” and a “bitch” in an email after she didn’t give the representative high marks for the online customer support chat experience.

Leticia Chartier’s new customer promotion apparently expired and her efforts to secure an explanation of her new rate was met by a shrug by Bell’s customer service. The online agent curtly told her to contact a different department. But before terminating the chat, Bell’s representative, identified as Mohamed Boutallaka, suddenly remembered the customer would be invited to score his performance in a survey after the chat window closed.

Chartier told QMI Agency he begged her not to give him a bad grade for his performance.

Chartier responded favorably to his request, or so she thought, scoring his performance “pretty good,” but explaining her rating wasn’t a criticism of the agent’s performance, just his lack of empowerment to help her resolve the issue.

Not good enough.

A few minutes after submitting the survey, the representative dispatched a scathing e-mail to her personal e-mail address on file with Bell.

bell bad“You’re a bitch Leticia and a real slut,” read the e-mail, which Chartier provided to QMI Agency.

Chartier immediately contacted Bell to complain about the email, but she says nobody at the company is taking the matter seriously.

“The supervisor who I spoke to on the phone apologized, but she never called me back to follow-up,” Chartier said.

After some research on Facebook, Chartier was reassured to discover Boutallaka works out of Bell’s call center… in Morocco.

“At least I know he won’t come to my place.”

A Bell Canada spokesman stopped short of promising the agent in question would be disciplined or fired. He only promised an internal investigation would begin over the incident.

Bell’s Efforts to Take Bell Aliant Private Will Divert $160 Million in Expansion Funds to Shareholders

Bell-Aliant-FibreOP

Bell Aliant’s FibreOp fiber to the home service may suffer as Bell/BCE redirects upgrade investments into shareholder dividend payouts.

Bell Aliant customers in Atlantic Canada won’t benefit from Bell Canada’s (BCE) efforts to take subsidiary Bell Aliant, Inc. private unless they happen to be shareholders.

In July, Bell Canada Enterprises announced its intention to privatize Bell Aliant, which serves customers in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, expecting at least $100 million a year in savings from reduced operating costs and capital investments.

Bell Aliant has operated largely independent of Bell Canada from its headquarters in Halifax, N.S. Bell Aliant customers have received FibreOp fiber to the home upgrades in several Atlantic provinces in recent years, providing more advanced services than Bell’s fiber to the neighborhood platform Fibe in Ontario and Quebec. Bell Aliant customers have also avoided usage caps and usage-based billing, getting access to unlimited use broadband at speeds up to 400/350Mbps.

Politicians in Nova Scotia immediately raised the alarm about the possibility of job cuts. Both Tory and NDP opposition leaders complain the Liberal premier has not done enough to protect jobs.

Bell Canada Enterprises

Bell Canada Enterprises

NDP MLA Dave Wilson said all three parties agreed to work on economic issues for the province. Wilson said he fears if the government isn’t vocal about its support for the jobs, Bell might look to move them elsewhere.

The news is better for those holding stock in the company. Existing public minority shareholders are being offered cash or shares of BCE stock (or a combination of both) in return for selling their Bell Aliant stock.

Bell wants to take Bell Aliant private to get access to its consistent $1 billion in cash revenue earned annually, mostly to satisfy BCE shareholders with a more reliable and consistent dividend payout.

Although Bell promises it will continue to invest in Atlantic Canada, its own financial disclosures show customers in the region will see spending on upgrades and other service improvements cut as a result of Bell’s actions.

Bell has committed to spending an average of $420 million a year across Atlantic Canada, but as an independent, Bell Aliant was investing $578 million annually, primarily on fiber upgrades. Over the next few years $160 million of the investment budget will be diverted to maintain a healthy divided payout for BCE stockholders. As of May 2014, BCE was paying a dividend of $0.6175 per quarter with common shares outstanding of 777.3 million, for a quarterly dividend payout of about $480 million per quarter, or $1.92 billion per year. As Bell Aliant shareholders cash out their holdings or convert them to BCE shares, the growing number of BCE shareholders will require Bell to spend more to satisfy dividend payouts. In fact, BCE may transfer enough money out of Bell Aliant’s operations to raise its dividend for all BCE shareholders to attract new investors.

Reduced spending will mean reduced upgrades for Bell Aliant customers. Bell is not promising significant cost savings from merger-related synergy, so capital spending will likely suffer the most as a result. So will customers.

HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

As the United States battles back against the introduction of usage caps and rising prices for broadband service, increased competition and regulated open wholesale access to some of Canada’s largest broadband providers have given Canadians an advantage in forcing providers to cut prices and improve service.

Canadians can now easily get unlimited broadband access from one of several independent ISPs that piggyback service on cable and phone networks. Some large ISPs have even introduced all-you-can eat broadband options for customers long-capped by the handful of big players. As customers consider switching providers, cable and phone companies have been forced to cut prices, especially for their best customers. Even cell service is now up for negotiation.

The more services a customer bundles with their provider, the bigger the discount they can negotiate, say analysts who track customer retention. Bell, Rogers, Telus, and others have a major interest keeping your business, even if it means reducing your price.

“It’s far more lucrative for the telecom company to keep you there for the third or fourth service,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told AP. It cuts down on marketing, service and installation calls, he added.

Getting the best deal often depends on your services, payment history, and how long you have been a customer. Cellphone discounts are the hardest to win, but customers are getting them if they have been loyal, carry a large balance and almost never pay late.

telus shawBigger discounts can be had for television and Internet service — cable television remains immensely profitable in Canada and broadband is cheap to offer, especially in cities. Americans often pay $80 or more for digital cable television packages, Canadians pay an average of $60.

Internet service in Canada now averages $45 a month, but many plans include usage caps. It costs more to take to the cap off.

Because of Canada’s past usage cap pervasiveness, online video is not as plentiful in Canada as it is in the United States. There has been considerably less cord-cutting in the north. Despite that, Canadians are ravenous online viewers of what they can find to watch (either legally or otherwise). As usage allowances disappear or become more generous, online video and the Internet will continue to grow in importance for service providers.

Customers should negotiate with their provider for a better deal, particularly if Bell’s Fibe TV is in town. Bell has been among the most aggressive in price cutting its fiber to the neighborhood television service for new customers ready to say goodbye to Rogers or Vidéotron.

Shaw and Telus battle for market share in the west and also have room to cut customer bills and still make a handsome profit.

22,000 Bell Small Business Customers Have Their Usernames/Passwords Hacked

nullcrewHackers exploited poor coding practices at an Ottawa-based third-party contractor to access and eventually publish more than 20,000 usernames and passwords of Bell Canada’s small business customers on a website.

Canada’s largest phone company is being criticized for allowing the third-party contractor access to sensitive account information, which became vulnerable after IT workers introduced security holes that bypassed Bell’s own security and encryption systems. Even worse, security experts say, Bell apparently stores customer usernames and passwords in a plain text format, accessible to any hacker.

Bell has refused to comment on the security lapse or its ongoing investigation, but the hackers are talking.

“Nullcrew” claimed responsibility for the breach on Twitter, including screenshots that suggest the group used a well-known SQL (structured query language) exploit that allowed the hackers to fish for information contained in Bell’s database.

Hackers often use automated scripts to hunt sites for security exploits and often don’t know whether they will get a handful of useless data or a treasure trove like Bell’s customer records.

bell badTrustwave Holdings, a security company based in Chicago, Ill., said in a 2013 report that poor coding practices have made the SQL injection attack a threat for more than 15 years.

“Outsourcing IT and business systems saves money only if there’s no attack,” the Trustwave report said. “Many third-party vendors leave the door open for attack, as they don’t necessarily keep client security interests top of mind.”

“Nullcrew’s” attack also discarded any pretense of encouraging clients to use passwords that are easy to remember but hard for others to guess, since Bell stored the data in an easily readable format.

Nullcrew said it alerted Bell to its security lapse more than two weeks before publishing their find online. An additional screenshot showed a Bell online customer service representative perplexed about the hacker group’s claims and likely never passed the information on to Bell’s security department.

Bell suspended the affected passwords over the weekend and is notifying customers about the security breach.

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