As you may have seen in the news recently, Canadian merchants are starting to charge processing fees for credit card transcations. The history of this goes back to 2018, when class action lawsuits were brought in BC, AB, ON, SK and QC against Visa, Mastercard and a number of banks on behalf of all merchants in Canada who accept credit cards. The lawsuits alleged a conspiracy in setting higher interchange fees paid by merchants to accept Visa and Mastercard credit cards, and other restrictions. The result of the class action lawsuit was that starting on October 6th, 2022, Visa and Mastercard allowed merchants to pass along the cost of processing a credit card transaction to consumers.
Enter Telus. Knowing that they would be allowed to pass credit card fees onto customers starting in October, Telus filed a tarrif application on August 8th with the CRTC to introduce a credit card processing fee to its tarrifed services. It's important to note that this application only applies to tarrifed services, which in the case of Telus includes things like legacy copper wireline services but does not include forbone products like internet and celluar service - something most of the media coverage of this sitution didn't mention.
The interesting thing to me is that it is Telus who made the application - if you had a tinfoil hat you might think this was by design. Rogers is still suffering an image problem following the nationwide outage eariler this year, and Bell is still dealing with public blowback from the termination of beloved jouralist Lisa LaFlamme. I can almost picture these three companies sitting around a table like the Springfield Republican party, plotting the best way to screw over Canadian consumers. With Bell and Rogers having a public image crisis, it was time for Telus to take one for the team and be the first to attempt to pass these fees onto consumers. And you know its a forgone concusion that once the Telus application is approved Rogers and Bell will quickly follow suit. But of course there is no collusion between the big three and to suggest otherwise would be crazy, right? Right?
Back to the matter at hand. The standard CRTC interval for processing tarrif applications is within 15 days of receipt of the applicaiton, however in this case the Commission stated in its August 15th resposne that because it received many interventions opposing the application that "the Commission intends to make its decision regarding the application and any subsequent revisions within 45 business days of receipt of the filing.". It is interesting to note the change in interval from 15 days to 45 business days in the response to this application - there is a major timeline difference between regular days and business days. The CRTC once again takes its sweet time to render the most basic of decisions.
Doing the math and calculating buisness days from the date of the application (Aug 8th), that would mean the decision should come out on Friday Oct 15th using Canadian Federal "business days", yet if we look at the planned CRTC releases for this week, a decision on the Telus application is suspiciously absent
This is problematic for several reasons, but most importantly because on September 16th, Telus emailed customers informing them that "As mentioned on your last bill, starting October 17, 2022, customers that choose to make a bill payment with a credit card will be charged a 1.5% credit card processing fee (plus tax). The credit card processing fee applies to one-time and pre-authorized credit card bill payments, and is not higher than the fee Telus pays to accept credit card payments"
Without a CRTC decision this week, customers could be in a very odd situation of being charged a fee that isn't approved yet. What happens if the CRTC deciceds to reject the updated tarrif page? Will the impacted customers be refunded any fees they paid? Will Telus actually charge the fee on tarrifed services ahead of the decision? Who knows. The CRTC should have rendered its decision before the Telus implementation date, but as we've seen time and time again its sloth like speed and inaction have left Canadian consumers high and dry.
In addition to the missing decision this week, the CRTC has also yet to deal with a procedural request from PIAC to suspend the Telus application and instead deal with the larger issue at hand that "even though TELUS’s application covers only a small number of customers in a few regulated exchanges, for a diminishing but still key service (wireline telephone), the issue is major for consumers for all of their telecommunications and paid broadcasting services". The PIAC application calls for a "comprehensive Notice of Consultation to consider credit card surcharging on all tariffed and ‘forborne’ telecommunications and broadcasting distribution services" which is something that is desperately needed. Having worked in the telecommunications industry for over twenty years I can tell you that the cost of credit card fees was already included in any cost of goods sold calculation and the passing of this fee to consumers is just another tactic by the big three to extract more money from hard working Canadains.
Canadians need to demand more from our so-called regulator - we need to demand timely action and response to critical issues such as this. We need to demand they take action when the big three try to squeeze more out of Canadians. We already pay some of the highest fees in the world for wireless services and if Telus is allowed to charge this fee, Bell and Rogers won't be far behind. Struggling Canadian families will be forced to pay more for the services they need just for the convience of paying via credit card. The CRTC could put a stop to all of this now by actioning on the PAIC application and opening a Notice of Consultation but with the term of Bell CEO beer buddy Ian Scott being extended by another four months I'm not holding my breath.