Bell Canada needs a spanking: Telecom giant caught with false advertising for the second time in a month

“No merchant, manufacturer or advertiser may, by any means whatever, make false or misleading representations to a consumer. “- Consumer Protection Act, RSQ, c P-40.1, section 219

Despite being fined $10 Million by the federal Competition Bureau for false advertising at the end of June, Bell Canada seems not to have learned their lesson. An exclusive investigation by Forget the Box has revealed that while the false prices which led to the fine have been removed from their website, other misleading and false claims persist.

A visitor to the “bundle” section of the Bell website yesterday was met with the text “Bundle and save: A free HD PVR for three years. Another reason to switch from cable”. After clicking on this graphic they were led to a page which explains that you can bundle between two and four services and receive a discount. One could then choose which services they want to buy and proceed to checkout without another word being said about that HD PVR they’re getting for three years.

Except they’re not getting it for three years. Hidden in a microscopic link titled “See how you can save with the Bell bundle” (which no one would click, since that information is clearly explained on the main page) is the caveat that bundling two services will only get you the PVR for two years. The hidden cost to an unsuspecting consumer of this misleading advertising? $243.60 (The rental cost of the PVR for one year).

Now in the case referenced above, the Competition Bureau found that despite Bell having put an asterisk next to the false prices, which led directly to fine print explaining the hidden charges, the advertising was false and misleading. In this case there is no asterisk, no tricky wording (“up to three years” for example), just a false claim.

When I first reached a Bell representative their response (passed on from their supervisor and their team leader) was that since the actual terms were available somewhere on the website the advertising was both accurate and fair.

I followed up with Bell’s public relations department, where I spoke to Bell Spokesperson Jacqueline Michelis. She asked me to wait for a comment from Bell, and after a day called back to direct me to their site, which has now been changed to read “Another reason to switch from cable. Get a free HD PVR for up to three years”. When I asked her how the false ad copy had been approved in the first place, and whether Bell had any plans to compensate customers who were misled, she declined to comment.

While I am appreciative that Bell acted swiftly to remove the offending ad copy after a press inquiry from this website, and in so doing acknowledged that their original ad was misleading and potentially illegal, I know of several complaints from customers which were ignored. So the question is, was Bell deliberately misleading consumers and stopped because we caught them? Or was this an honest mistake attributable to an overzealous marketing department, which was rectified as soon as it was brought to the attention of management?

Now, if it were not for Bell’s rather atrocious record of fines and public condemnation for false advertising, illegal telemarketing practices, throttling the internet and trying to force Usage Based Billing on all Canadians I might be inclined to give them and their seemingly out of control marketing department the benefit of the doubt.

But it seems to me that if you acknowledge your original ad was false, and misleading enough to warrant removal, then its removal should come with an apology and compensation for those consumers who were misled.

In Quebec it is illegal to “by any means whatever, make false or misleading representations to a consumer”. That’s the law, they were heavily fined for breaking it, and less than a month later they decided that if the authorities didn’t like their use of an asterisk and fine print they’d just get rid of the asterisk.

If Bell truly wants to show us that they’ve learned their lesson, then they’ll issue an apology and offer a free third year to all customers who signed up since the offending ad was posted to their website. If they do so then I promise to write a whole article about how they’ve atoned for their mistakes and turned the corner to being a responsible corporate “citizen”.

In the meantime, Bell is still on my shit list.

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  • It should also be added that if you recently subscribed to a Bell bundle deal and should have received three free years with the PVR, but only received two, you should call and complain.

    They removed the content because they acknowledged it was profoundly misleading. So call and complain, I have a feeling you might get that extra free year!

  • Wow, I’m so glad someone called them on this! I signed up for the bundle and had a frustrating convo with some dude at Bell about why I wouldn’t get a third year.

    I can’t believe they’re allowed to do stuff like this, I want an apology and I want the third year they promised!

  • I quit the Bell habit a while back. I’m with TekSaavy now and I love supporting an indie ISP.

    There has to be some way to stop them from pulling this BS.

    A friend of mine spent a year fighting with Bell because they kept sending bills after she cancelled her internet service with them.

  • I want to know how they get away with mislead people like this! Its horrible that they can lie to us and not be punished.

    Boo on Bell!

  • Looks like either they saw your post or others were complaining about this too because that page now says, “Get a free HD PVR for up to three years.” If nothing else at least this bodes well for the power of citizens through tech and the Internet. Tootles.

  • Yes, as it says in the article they made the change in response to my request for a comment.

    However, silently changing your false advertising when you get caught is a far cry from owning up to what you did, apologizing, and compensating the affected customers.

    I’m waiting for the apology and compensation. If Bell cares about how people view them then they’ll own up and take the hit.

  • I am in the exact same situation with Shaw!
    In November 2010 a rep for Sahw called us offering us to switch to Shaw for everything. I listened to the offer, sales pitch and talked it over with my family. We then decided to accept their offer and extras. The the rep dissapeared for almost 3 months. Not returning my phone calls and emails. Then she sent me an email saying she had a medical emergency and was off work. I felt sorry for her at first. Till I remembered we added each other on facebook since we had such good convos. So upon reading stuff on her wall, we saw that the time she mentioned she was away from work she was actually talking about how her days went at work. Anyways, then I called Shaw and complained and had to fight with them for weeks on an almost daily basis. Finally we got what we were promised in the first place after exhausting phone exchanges and emails. They played me like a yo yo for weeks sending me to other departments. Now six months after that, we were suppose to be upgraded free of charge for their Home PVR and even I have everything in writting in emails but the wording is not convicing to her supervisor. They now say that they will upgrade us and to take what ever action we feel appropriate. We would of never switched had we known. I have 117 emails from the exchange between me and that rep. I want to take action but do not know where to start. The lies, the frustrations, the time wasting……These companies should be held to a higher standard than the corner used car dealerships!

  • Well, if you’d like Stephen I’d be happy to follow up with them for you. Are you saying that you now have been given everything they promised or are they still withholding some things?

  • Ethan,
    You would have to review the email exchanges to totally understand. And NO they have not given us what they promised us which is why I am frustrated. Had I known that they were empty promises, we would of never switched to them. I would be more than happy to forward the emails to you and explain in depth the situation. At this point, me pursuing this is a question of principle. It’s been too much of a battle so far to just turn tail and walk away. I know that they hear this all the time and play the odds that people won’t follow up and take it the extra mile. I am not one of them.

  • “If Bell truly wants to show us that they’ve learned their lesson, then they’ll issue an apology and offer a free third year to all customers”. Bell ‘did’ learn their lesson and thoroughly. Their accounting department told them that a 10 million dollar fine was a drop in the bucket compared to the revenue derived from the scam. The CRTC knows this, Bell accountants know this. As long as Bell is under contract to the CRTC, Bell effectively remains above the law. The only real power that can hold Bell accountable is the mass of customers (unsuspecting victims) in their wake.

    I’ve found hundreds and hundreds of posts just like this so lets assume we are aware that we are all in the same boat together. The only way to fight Bell/Rogers/Shaw,etc. is by playing the game the way they do. They are conglomerates, but nowhere near the size of the conglomerate we victims are. Organization is the only way. It concentrates the power of individuals.

    As individuals we can’t sustain a fight as their lawyer will always be bigger than ours BUT…their lawyer cannot protect them from decisions made by a massive group of customers organized for a single purpose.

    You just have to know that somewhere, some conglomerate accountant is saying to himself; “One day…they will all wake up…and we are so screwed when that day comes…because, let’s face it…you can’t get the sh_t back up the horses ass”

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