Bell, Telus face class actions over rounding up calls to next full minute

TORONTO – An Ontario court has certified class action lawsuits against Telus (TSX:T) and Bell (TSX:BCE) over the practice of rounding up calls to the next full minute.

Lawyers for two firms representing the plaintiffs say millions of Canadians were affected by the practice in which, for example, a call that lasts one minute and one second is rounded off to two minutes for billing purposes.

While Bell and Telus had previously billed customers on a per-second basis, in mid-2002 they changed their practices so that customers were billed on a per-minute basis, with calls being rounded up to the farthest minute, the suit alleges.

This change was not disclosed by either telecom until the end of the class periods, lawyers for Rochon Genova LLP and the Merchant Law Group LLP said in a release issued Thursday.

As a result of the changes, customers who purchased a fixed number of minutes for a set fee might deplete their talk-time minutes much faster than represented, after which they would incur additional per-minute charges at a higher rate, the suit alleges.

The class actions were certified on behalf of Canadian residents who subscribed to Bell services and were billed by the minute between Aug. 18, 2006, and Oct. 1, 2009, and Ontario residents who subscribed to Telus services and were billed by the minute between Aug. 18, 2006, and July 1, 2010.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

However, Joel Rochon, partner at Rochon Genova, called certification of the suits “an important decision for everyday consumers ” who “have a right not to be misled when entering a standard form contract.”

“There is hope with this decision that mobile phone transactions will become more transparent,” Rochon said, adding that the fact that “punitive and aggregate damages have been certified sends a strong message to the major actors in the cellphone industry that this sort of conduct will not be tolerated.”

Amounts being sought were not specified in the release issued by the two firms.