Dear CARP Mississauga Members,
As the member of Provincial Parliament for Mississauga East Cooskville, I am introducing a bill in the Ontario Legislature that would ban phone and cable companies from charging an extra fee for providing a paper bill. Research shows that this charge disproportionately hurts seniors, many of who are not comfortable getting their invoices online. I would request that you forward this to your membership. There is also a petition that I have started in support of this initiative. The petition can be signed by clicking here. Alternatively, people can call my office at 905 502 1301 and register their support over the phone.
Why I am working to ban phone and cable companies from charging fees for paper bills.
A constituent recently came to see me with two envelopes from his telecom company. The first is a bill for his cell phone. The second is a flyer from the same telecom company asking him to switch his television services to their company.
On the bill, there is a $2 charge for the privilege of sending him a paper bill. While his telecom company charged him $2, I am told that the charges can be as high as $4 depending on the service provider.
I think it is plain wrong to charge someone a fee, in order to tell them how much they owe you for a service you provided them.
That is why I am introducing a Private Members Bill in the legislature that would stop telecom companies from charging a fee for providing a paper invoice.
There are four reasons why I am introducing this bill:
First – double standards.
One of the arguments used by many telecom companies as well as banks that charge a fee for providing a paper bill is that they are trying to encourage people to go paperless since it is better for our environment. They say they want to incent people to register online and receive an electronic bill. I happen to think that going paperless is a good idea, but their argument rings hollow. After all, if they were that concerned about the environment, why would they send my constituent two separate pieces of mail – one for his cellphone bill, the other a flyer advertising their television services? They might have sent both in one envelope.
In my own case, I get my wireless bill online, but that has not stopped my service provider from mailing me flyers with full postage. Yet, if I was to ask for a paper bill, I would be charged $2 to save the environment. I see a double standard.
Second – customers lose either way.
Another reason given for the extra charge is that it costs the telecom companies more to send a paper bill than an electronic bill. So here is how I see it: Until recently, the telecom companies were sending everyone a paper bill at no extra cost. The cost of sending out a paper bill has not increased that significantly. On the other hand, by their own admission, technology has provided them with a cheaper option – electronic billing. So wouldn’t the right thing be to pass these savings on to the customers who opt to get the bill electronically? Instead, not only are they not passing on the savings to customers, they are on top of this, charging for a service they used to provide for free, i.e. paper invoices.
So the net loser is the customer.
Third – protected markets.
Part of the problem here is that the telecommunications industry is not a free and competitive market. The telecom market is for all purposes an oligopoly with a few dominant players. If there was a truly free market, competitive forces might have ensured that they did not charge such an unfair fee. Given the lack of free competition in the telecom market, I am comfortable introducing my bill.
Most importantly, there is a deeper issue at hand here and that is about fairness. Not everyone is in a position to receive an electronic bill. It is definitely unfair to the poor and to seniors as well as people who for whatever reason are not comfortable or proficient in using the internet. The telecom companies say that on a case by case basis, they will waive the fee. That is not good enough. In either case, most people are not aware that they can get the fee waived and in the end, it is up to the company to decide.
In the interest of full disclosure, it is not much of an issue personally. I choose to get not only my cell phone bills online but a number of other bills such as my 407 ETR, my bank statements etc.
But I still think it is unfair to impose this fee on the financially disadvantaged and those who are not comfortable with technology.
What would be fair is giving people the option when they first sign up for the service to go paperless or with a paper bill without any extra cost for either option which is what my proposed bill will do.
And if the telecommunication companies truly want to incent people to go paperless in the interest of the environment, perhaps these companies should provide a discount for those who go online. After all, they themselves claim that it is cheaper for them to send a bill online.
I would have liked to stop banks from charging this fee as well, but banks are expressly exempt from Ontarios Consumer Protection Laws and it is up to the federal government to step in. To the best of my knowledge, no other industry other than banking and telecom charges a fee for sending a paper bill.
In the meantime, I would ask even one of the telecom giants to in the name of competition to drop this paper bill charge. If one does, the magic powers of competition will persuade the others to drop it as well, making my Private Members Bill unnecessary. And oh yes, one more thing, if they are truly serious about saving the environment, will they please stop mailing Ontarians their paper flyers? Or perhaps they might consider paying my constituent $2 for the privilege of sending him a paper flyer. That way they would be even.