Canadian Telecoms Challenge 911 ‘Tax’

     VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) – Canada’s big three wireless providers challenged a law from the Vancouver Island city of Nanaimo that puts them on the hook for costs of emergency 911 calls placed by cell-phone customers.
     The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, Telus Communications, Rogers Communications and Bell Mobility sued Nanaimo in B.C. Supreme Court.
     The telecoms challenge the law the city enacted in November 2010: “A Bylaw to Provide for the Recovery of Costs of Providing 911 Service in the City of Nanaimo by Means of a Call Answer Levy.”
     The law requires service providers to pay a 75-cent “Call Answer Levy,” a 7-cent “Billing and Collection Fee,” and a $30 “Fee-Per-Call.”
     The phone companies claim they have no control over where a 911 call is routed, as it depends on the location of the phone, be it a land line or cell phone, and say they have no control over whether a call is routed to the city’s “Central Island 911 Service.”
     “The Wireless Service Providers do not have systems in place to allow them to administer or recover the levies and fees imposed by the Bylaw,” the phone companies say. “It will cost the Wireless Service Providers at least $500,000 to implement a billing system to apply a monthly levy or fee-per-call on a municipal basis. In some cases, it will be impossible for the Wireless Service Providers to recover the levies and fees imposed by the Bylaw and the 911 Emergency Calling Service Agreement.”
     The telecoms say the law is unconstitutional, because the levies are a “tax,” not just “a regulatory charge or a fee to offset the cost of administering a regulatory regime within municipal jurisdiction.”
     And they say that the Canadian Constitution requires “that all taxes in British Columbia be expressly authorized by Parliament or the provincial Legislature.”
     “Nanaimo is not authorized by any legislation to impose a tax on the Wireless Service Providers,” they say.
     Finally, they say that the bylaw “creates a dangerous disincentive for callers to dial 9-1-1 with the municipal boundaries of Nanaimo.”
     They want the law tossed. They are represented by Joseph J. Arvay and Bruce Elwood with Arvay Findlay.

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