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Bell penalized $10 million for false advertising

Bell Canada has agreed to pay a $10 million administrative penalty for advertisements that the Competition Bureau says misled consumers over telecommunication service prices.

"The prices that were being advertised to Bell customers were not available to anyone anywhere at anytime throughout Canada," says Greg Scott, spokesperson for the bureau. "Users were paying significantly higher prices than those being advertised -- sometimes by as much as 15 to 20 per cent."

While Bell has agreed to pay the penalty and modify the advertisements found to be misleading, the company insists it is doing so only in order to avoid "a lengthy and costly legal challenge," and denies any wrongdoing.

"We've always disclosed all fees in our advertising," says Bell spokesperson Jacqueline Michelis. "Pricing disclaimers in advertising have been common practice in the communications marketplace and many other industries in Canada."

But according to the Competition Bureau, it is not sufficient for a company to include accurate price information solely in fine-print disclaimers.

"In order to find out what the actual price was consumers were required to scroll through approximately 1,600 words of text," says Scott. "Bell was tricking consumers by hiding these additional fees."

The advertisements in question ran across Canada as early as December 2007.

The agreement between Bell and the Competition Bureau was welcomed by, an advocacy group that calls for more competition in the Canadian telecommunication market.

"This validates the concerns of Canadians who believe that this country's telecommunications companies do not treat their customers with respect, that the services they provide do not meet the standards of their global counterparts, and that Canadians overall are being price-gouged," says OpenMedia founder and director, Steve Anderson.

$10 million is the maximum penalty that the Competition Bureau may seek in such cases.

Ben Christopher is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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