07/07/2015 09:02 EDT | Updated 07/07/2016 05:59 EDT

Bell Removes Touch-Tone Fee From Bills, But Customers Still On The Hook

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Signage is displayed outside of a BCE Inc. Bell Canada store in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012. BCE Inc., Canada?s second-largest wireless carrier, topped second-quarter profit estimates and increased its annual forecast after adding more smartphone subscribers on lucrative long-term contracts. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bell customers with landlines may notice an unpopular fee has disappeared from their bill: the $2.80 monthly charge for Touch-Tone service.

But hold the phone! Customers are still paying the fee, they are just no longer being told about it as a separate charge.

As CBC's Marketplace discovered, while the $2.80 fee has been removed as a separate item from Bell's bills, customers will see that the cost of their landline plans have increased by $2.80.

Last year, when Marketplace reached out to Canadians to vote for Canada's most frustrating charge, Bell's Touch-Tone fee was among the five finalists.

Ticketmaster fees, airline seat selection fees, paper bill and statement fees and ATM fees rounded out the list.

After a Canada-wide vote, Bell's Touch-Tone fee was named "Canada's dumbest charge."

Selma Schachner, who teaches English as a second language in Oakville, Ont., argued the case against the Touch-Tone fee. "You have no choice but to use a Touch-Tone phone," she said. "Do you know anyone who has a rotary phone?"

Fee brings in estimated $80 million

With 2.6 million customers across the country, Marketplace estimated that this fee brought in more than $80 million for Bell in 2013.

Bell told Marketplace that customers who are on rotary dial service do not pay the fee, and that according to CRTC rules, the company was required to itemize the charge for Touch-Tone customers.

According to Bell spokesperson Jason Laszlo, customers will stop seeing the fee on their current or next Bell bill.

"After Bell privatized our Atlantic Canada affiliate Bell Aliant at the end of 2014, we applied to the CRTC to amalgamate our billing approaches to landline, including permission to finally remove the Touch-Tone fee item from customer bills."

In May, the CRTC granted Bell permission to remove the item from bills.

"Touch-Tone has long been included in the advertised price for home phone, so the price remains the same. The CRTC decision simply means we no longer have to show it as a separate item on customer bills. Of course rotary dial customers continue to pay a lower rate because they do not have Touch-Tone capability," Laszlo wrote to Marketplace in an email.

According to the CRTC, the rule change is consistent with other decisions the agency has made.

"The proposed amalgamation would not result in an increase in customers' overall rates. As well, the changes would not affect either customers who are currently subscribed to the Bell companies' grandfathered Rotary Dial service and do not pay the Touch-Tone service rate, or customers who are registered as persons with a disability and pay a reduced rate for Touch-Tone service. These customers would see a credit on their bills to remove the charge for Touch-Tone service."

Schachner, however, says she is not impressed. "It's still very deceitful," she says.

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