Bell Aliant waives 'unnecessary' charges after N.S. senior refuses to pay

Frankie Allison holds his phone bill showing hundreds of dollars in charges for calls to nearby numbers.  (Jack Julian/CBC - image credit)
Frankie Allison holds his phone bill showing hundreds of dollars in charges for calls to nearby numbers. (Jack Julian/CBC - image credit)

A senior in Hammonds Plains was stuck with a whopper of a landline bill when all his phone calls were coded as long distance.

"Thirty-five dollars a month for the house phone, that's what they said I have to pay," said Frankie Allison. "Not 20 cents a minute."

The 81-year-old ordered his phone before Christmas because friends said they were having trouble understanding him on his usual cellphone.

Nearly all his calls were to Lower Sackville, a Nova Scotia suburb about 20 minutes away by car. But when the phone bills arrived totalling hundreds of dollars, it made no sense.

"I made calls to Sackville — and I mean Sackville to here is no long distance," Allison said. "If I phone up the road to my friend, they still charge me 20 cents a minute."

'That's no mistake'

Allison's new phone number had the 782 area code, instead of the better-known 902. It's been active in the province since 2014. But it was new to Allison, and his phone installer.

"The telephone guy that put the telephone in.... He never put any number in like that before around here," Allison said.

When Allison received his first bill, he called Bell Aliant to see what was afoot.

Jack Julian/CBC
Jack Julian/CBC

He was told everything was fine.

"I said they made a mistake, when I called them. And, 'No no, that's no mistake, that's what you owe,'" he recalls being told by the company.

Allison's bill for two months of local calls totalled nearly $650.

He cancelled his landline, and until Friday was in a standoff with the phone company, which told him they could send his debt to a collections agency.

"I told him you can put in whose hands you like, I'm not paying anything," Allison said, "I'm 81 years old, I don't need no credit. And I got three vehicles, so I know I'm not buying any more."

'Programming error'

After CBC News called Bell Aliant, the company admitted its error.

"We looked into Mr. Allison's account and discovered there was a programming error with his phone number which resulted in unnecessary long-distance charges," said Bell Aliant spokesperson Katie Hatfield.

She also said it was wrong to push Allison to pay those charges.

"We didn't understand the root issue and offered Mr. Allison credits instead of reprogramming his number and waiving the erroneous long-distance charges," Hatfield said.

"We are now waiving the charges and apologize for the inconvenience."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.