Bell Canada Pays Price for Misleading Advertising: Who’s Next?




After being taken on by the Competition Bureau, Bell Canada has agreed to pay a monetary fine of $10 million to the Bureau for engaging in misleading advertising.

Bell Canada’s advertised prices failed to include the many hidden fees such as modem rental and phone and digital television services that were later tacked on when consumers tried purchasing the advertised products or services. For example, Bell’s bundle package, which included cable, television and home phone services was advertised as low as $69.90/month but actual prices charged were $80.27 (about 15% more). An investigation launched by the Bureau determined that Bell has been engaging in this practice since December 2007.

In an agreement with the Bureau, Bell has agreed to pay the $10 million dollar monetary penalty, which is the maximum provided for in the Competition Act plus $100,000 in costs associated with the Bureau’s 7-month investigation. In addition, Bell has agreed to modify its non-compliant advertisements within 60 days.

Although Bell included a fine-print disclaimer in its advertisements, which had been the industry practice, the Competition Commissioner, Melanie Aitken stated that this was “no license to advertise prices that are not available”.  This may spell the beginning of the end of fine-print disclaimers in price advertisements.

Bell Canada was made an example of by the Bureau but the penalty imposed is a rude awakening to other corporations in all sectors including banks, credit card companies, airlines, and telecommunication companies who may be relying on disclaimers in their advertisements as well.

Bell agreed to pay its fine without taking the matter to the Competition Tribunal or the Courts for further analysis. Because of this, there is really no legal precedent that has been set to guide future cases on the use of disclaimers in advertising. However, it may just be a matter of time before corporations will be better prepared to anticipate the true legal consequences of using disclaimers in their advertisements; whether through Court or Competition Tribunal decisions or through Competition Bureau future guidelines on the use of disclaimers in ads.

I applaud the Competition Bureau for enforcing the laws meant to protect consumers from misleading pricing practices.






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