Canadian telco TELUS has put in an application to the CRTC to allow them to charge a 1.5% fee to those who pay their bill by credit card. The CBC has the details:
For a theoretical customer in Alberta whose cellphone bill is $100, the charge would bring their bill to $106.66 — $100 for their basic bill, plus $5 for GST, a $1.58 surcharge for the new fee on top of that, plus another eight cents in GST on the surcharge.
“The company plans to provide advance notices of the fee to its existing customers starting in mid-August,” Telus said in its letter to the regulator.
Telus’ rationale for the move stems from a development this summer, when credit card firms including Visa and MasterCard agreed to a settlement that will see them refund millions of dollars worth of credit card processing fees that merchants have paid them over the years. Crucially, that settlement also gives businesses permission to start charging customers those fees directly starting in October, which is what Telus is trying to do.
Previously, many merchants weren’t allowed to charge customers directly for the fees that credit companies charge them for processing sales. Such fees can range from less than one per cent of the sale, to more than three per cent for some premium cards.
Now, I get why TELUS is doing this. From my view, this seems like a targeted cost recovery exercise for TELUS. And consumers can avoid this fee by paying via their bank, which is what my wife and I do. And I don’t really have a problem with it because there’s an option to avoid this fee. But I think they’re going about it the wrong way. Instead of penalizing customers who use credit cards, how about incentivizing customers to use other payment methods? For example, my wife and I frequent a Chinese restaurant called Congee Queen, and they incentivize us to pay via cash by giving us a 10% discount whenever we do take out, which is frequently. That’s made my wife and I always have a stash of cash lying around so that if we want take out from them, we can save some money and not have to dash to the ATM. I think if TELUS did something like that, they wouldn’t be facing this sort of backlash:
Rosa Addario, a spokesperson for telecom watchdog OpenMedia, says the plan is just the latest way for the industry to extract more revenue from cash-strapped Canadian consumers.
“All three of our telecom providers … have reported increased profits, increased revenue and increased customers for 2021,” she told CBC News in an interview. “They are doing better than ever. This is just another way to raise our bills through shady practices and extra fees and adding things on top so that we are paying even more than we already are.”
That is a valid point. Telcos in Canada are making tons of money right now. So by TELUS charging this fee, they’ve created an optics issue for themselves as being perceived as greedy. The backlash continues though:
Suze Morrison, a former Ontario MPP, is urging the CRTC to reject the proposal, noting that it will disproportionately impact people who are already financially vulnerable.
“Working class people, low income people are really struggling to make ends meet right now,” she told CBC News in an interview. “The last thing anyone needs is an additional fee just because of how they pay their telephone bill to keep their phone lines connected.”
While credit card surcharges are creeping into many businesses, she says it’s different for a telecom utility to charge them because it is a necessity.
“A consumer has a choice to go to a mom and pop restaurant or to cook dinner at home or to go to a restaurant that’s not charging fees for credit card swipes,” she said.
“But we’ve allowed so much consolidation in our telecom industry and there’s such a monopoly in the sector that it’s not like folks can say, ‘OK, well, if you’re going to charge a fee, I’m going to take my business somewhere else.’ I have nowhere else to go.”
That is a valid point. Part of the problem with TELUS charging this fee is that they create the perception that they are just like Bell and Rogers at a time where a lot of people are not doing well because of the current economic climate. And this is a company that has spent years distancing itself from Bell and Rogers via their social advocacy among other things. This again creates an optics issue for TELUS. Though I will point out that Koodo and Public Mobile which are flanker brands of TELUS won’t have this fee (yet). And I will also point out that these sorts of fees are becoming common.
And I am certain that Bell and Rogers will be putting forth applications to the CRTC to do exactly the same thing. Because having watched this sector for years, if one Canadian telco does something, the other two follow.