An old fee that’s made untold millions for the country’s big cellphone providers may now end up costing them billions, while wireless users everywhere could find a few bucks put back in their pocket.
The Supreme Court of Canada refused Thursday an appeal by Rogers Communications Inc., BCE’s Bell Mobility and Telus Corp. and others, who were asking the top court to throw out a case over controversial “system access fees.”
The decision means a class-action suit originally filed in a Saskatchewan court in 2004 can proceed — with 30,000 people already having joined the case, according to lawyer Tony Merchant
“The ultimate goal is, they were overcharging people, charging people wrongly and we want the money back,” said Mr. Merchant of Merchant Law Group and a lead lawyer in the action.
Mr. Merchant, whose firm has spearheaded high-profile cases in the past such as the 2008 Maple Leaf Foods class action over a Listeria outbreak, said the motion seeks $18-billion from the national carriers as well as regional providers SaskTel (Saskatchewan), MTS (Manitoba) and Bell Aliant (Eastern Canada) for “unjust enrichment” through the fees.
For years, mobile providers charged subscribers up to $9 a month for “access” to their network. The fees, sometimes labeled as administration costs, were charged on top of monthly usage rates and helped elevate Canadian cellphone bills to the highest per customer in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development by 2009.
The carriers, who have defended the charges as a means to maintain investment in their networks, moved to phase them out as new competitors like Wind Mobile and Mobilicity prepared to enter the market offering flat-rate plans that charged nothing for network access.