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Federal legislation will end fees for getting monthly bills on paper: minister

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OTTAWA - The big telecom companies may have agreed to exempt some customers from fees charged for paper invoices, but the federal government says it's going to end the whole practice.

Industry Minister James Moore says the government will introduce legislation to end what is called pay-to-pay, the practice of charging people extra for a monthly bill on paper.

"We do not believe that Canadians should pay more to receive a paper copy of their telephone or wireless bill," Moore said in a statement Friday.

The telecom firms met under the auspices of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission on Thursday and agreed to exempt some people, including seniors, the disabled, military vets and people without Internet access.

The CRTC said it wasn't enough and called for another round of discussions, but that seems to have been overtaken by Moore's announcement.

The minister says the practice of charging extra for paper invoices is unfair.

Moore says Canadians expect lower prices and better service from the telecoms.

"That is why our government committed to ending this unfair practice and putting the interests of Canadian consumers first," he said.

The Thursday meeting included telecom giants Bell (TSX:BCE), Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) and Telus (TSX:T).

Billing practices and fees are a patchwork in the industry.

Cogeco (TSX:CCA, TSX:CGO), which supplies cable, Internet and phone service in Ontario and Quebec, has never adopted the practice, although it does encourage customers to go paperless.

MTS Allstream (TSX:MBT), SaskTel and Shaw Communications (TSX:SJR.B), also don't charge extra for paper invoices.

Other companies, however, do charge for paper bills — up to $6 per month in some cases, plus tax — and both the fees and exemption policies vary widely.

Rogers, for instance, has been known to waive its $2 fee if customers object for various reasons.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has estimated consumers pay $734 million every year in fees to get bills on paper.

And that's the motivation for the telecom giants to keep the fees in place for as long as possible, said NDP critic Andrew Cash.

"It's a cash cow that just keeps on giving, until the government comes in and puts in some strong legislation that bans the practice altogether," he said.

"And that's what we've been calling for."

Cash said he would await the details contained in the legislation before saying whether he would support it, but called the announcement by Moore a positive step.

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