Navigating the maze of Yukon cellphone companies

Gerry Trudeau lacks faith in Northwestel’s ability to provide cellphone service. After signing up with Latitude Wireless, the Whitehorse man…

Gerry Trudeau lacks faith in Northwestel’s ability to provide cellphone service.

After signing up with Latitude Wireless, the Whitehorse man was overcharged, given the runaround about his bill and then hit with a $200 penalty for taking his business to Bell Mobility.

Bell Mobility is owned by Bell Canada. Bell Canada owns Northwestel, which co-owns Latitude Wireless.

The Latitude Wireless experience has been very unsettling, Trudeau said last week.

“I started an account with Latitude Wireless in August. Within a few weeks, I added a second phone to the same account, at which time we were told there would be no charge cell-to-cell on the account.

“Actually they even offered that there would be no charges from one Latitude cellphone to another Latitude cellphone (a service called Latitude Unlimited), which sounded fantastic to us.”

But, that didn’t happen.

The company charged him and his partner, Karen Fulmek, for calls between their  respective cellphones.

August’s bill came in at $220 and September’s was $235, said Trudeau, showing his receipts.

The company said it would remove the extra charges.

“That sounded good to us; we were confident that it would be taken care of.

“The next bill came along (in October), it was adjusted, but it was adjusted incorrectly. There were still major problems.”

The couple decided to stop paying until the problem was fixed, he said.

“We talked to them again and again on numerous occasions,” said Trudeau.

The company promised to investigate, he added.

“This happened right until December 12, when we cancelled our service.”

The December bill was $354.76 and contained the original billing mistakes dating to August.

He severed his contract.

“I asked, in the interest of customer service and the fact that they weren’t holding up their part of the contract, that they waive that (cancellation) fee.”

But, Latitude’s customer service supervisor Jordan Rivest, told Trudeau he would be charged the $200 cancellation fee.

That was deemed fair because the company was crediting his account $115.78, thereby fixing the billing problem.

“This covers all your charges going back to the August 12th invoice that were billed in error. With this credit, the remaining balance is currently $238.98,” wrote Rivest in a December 20 e-mail.

“I spoke to my manager about the early termination fees, and while there was an error on the bills going back to August, we have now corrected that and reversed all application charges.

“Thus, to terminate the cells prior to the expiration of contracts (08/01/08 and 08/16/08) we will be charging the termination fees of $99 per phone.”

Rivest’s response befuddled Trudeau.

His bills included charges titled “Latitude employee PP”, “area wide roaming,” “go lights,” “system access fees,” “roaming free minutes,” and “downloads,” but no call dates or charges per call, he said.

Unsure what, exactly, the $238.98 was for, he asked for printout of every billed call.

Not necessary, said the company’s customer service supervisor.

“I wouldn’t be concerned about the total minutes used, just look over the bills, and add up the total usage charges,” wrote Rivest in a December 21st response to Trudeau’s inquiry.

More disturbing, as of last week, Trudeau discovered his Latitude phones are still operational.

He’s bracing for more charges.

He shouldn’t worry, said Chris McNutt, Latitude Wireless’ marketing and public relations manager.

Yes, the phones can still receive calls. But there won’t be any additional charges, said McNutt.

The company cancelled the phones on December 20th, eight days after receiving Trudeau’s request.

Since then, Trudeau can make no outgoing calls, but it usually takes between 30 and 40 days to officially cancel Latitude cellphone service, said McNutt.

Latitude has to send the information to Bell Mobility, which decommissions cellphone service in the territory, he said.

 “I know it sounds a little quirky, but that’s how it works.”

Trudeau never received an itemized bill because he didn’t pay for one, said McNutt.

He didn’t pay the $5-a-month charge for detailed bills, said McNutt.

“It’s industry standard, and that is how Bell, Rogers and Telus operate — you pay extra to have detailed billing.”

The whole affair is regrettable, he said, adding the company wasn’t made aware of Trudeau’s billing problem until October.

Latitude respects Trudeau’s decision to move to a different service provider, added McNutt.

It won’t help, said Roger Gillies, a Bell Mobility customer.

All three Yukon cellphone providers  —NMI, Latitude Wireless and Bell Mobility –are owned by Bell Canada, a company with serious customer service issues, said Gillies, noting his problem started last July.

That’s when he put $15 on his pay-as-you-go cellphone and started incurring long-distance charges for local calls, he said.

“I made two local calls and suddenly my service wasn’t working any more.

“The story that I was given was there was a problem with the towers, that my number was being bounced to a tower that was used for long distance.”

Customer service agents at the local Bell store in Marwell (which has now closed — more on this in a moment), said they couldn’t help him,

They provided a 1-800 number, said Gillies.

Bell Mobility’s 1-800 customer service reps called the problem a “glitch” affecting phones with a 335 prefix. It could be avoided by dialing the 867-area code before every call, he said.

But, if you forgot to add the area code, the long-distance charges were again applied and you had to go through the 1-800 process all over again, said Gillies.

“I did that a few times and finally they just told me that if I didn’t use the 867 the charges would stick.”

Bell’s long-distance problems are still affecting people, said Gillies, who pointed to a 31-member user group titled Bell’s Cell Service Sucks on Facebook, an online social networking site.

The forum is “a place to vent your displeasure with Bell’s monopoly cellular telephone ‘service’ in the Yukon and their apparent lack of concern for customers,” according to the group’s description published on Facebook.

Bell Customers with problems often get the runaround.

“Bell’s website and phone system blow chunks. They deliberately make it as difficult as possible to talk to a real human being,” according to the group.

“Bell, you suck.”

While Northwestel’s Wireless division now owns one of the only stores selling Bell Mobility’s equipment and service in Whitehorse — World of Wireless in Horwood’s Mall — it doesn’t handle customer service and billing problems, said McNutt, who was Bell Mobility’s public relations representative in the Yukon until recently.

“Northwestel Wireless does operate a dealership, so you could go in there. But, as far as customer service with things like having a problem with a bill, you wouldn’t talk to any of us in Whitehorse.

“(Northwestel Wireless and Bell Mobility) are completely separate entities.”

It’s understandable that customers could become confused with the organizational structure of Yukon cellphone service providers, said McNutt.