Canadian consumers expect better protections for international roaming fees, says new PIAC report

"We need the federal government to take a stronger role in monitoring the sector and making regulations mandatory rather than leaving it up to the discretion of self-interested big business." - James Clancy, NUPGE National President.

Ottawa (12 Dec. 2012) - According to a new report issued by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), Canadian wireless subscribers want better protection from international data roaming fees. The report, Consumers and Wireless Data Roaming, looked at roaming service, billing practices and consumer experiences related to international data roaming fees, and how these fees affect the wireless device usage of consumers when outside of Canada. It also provides a comparative look at consumer protection measures implemented and considered in other countries to determine what actions, if any, are required to limit the occasions of bill shock experienced by Canadian consumers.

“Canadians are clearly frustrated with international data roaming fees they currently pay and are scared of unexpectedly large bills from their wireless provider when they travel,” according to Janet Lo, legal counsel at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and co-author of the report. PIAC found that 89 per cent of Canadian consumers surveyed feel they pay too much for wireless data when they travel outside of Canada, while 89 per cent have received an unexpectedly large wireless bill for data roaming charges while traveling.

The report also found that a majority of Canadian consumers surveyed who travelled with their wireless device:

  • expressed that billing related to international roaming charges is difficult to understand;
  • rarely buy a data plan add-on, and if they do, feel they paid too much for it;
  • are not confident in estimating the cost of their international data roaming travelling;
  • believe regulation is required to compel wireless service providers to notify consumers about the charges they have incurred for roaming while they’re travelling; and,
  • remain insecure about using their wireless device while traveling internationally, since 44 per cent of respondents surveyed prefer to leave the device turned off while they travel, while 16 per cent simply leave their wireless device at home.

In order to alleviate consumer frustration, PIAC is recommending the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) require Canadian wireless carriers to notify subscribers via text message of the applicable international data roaming rates when they enter another country. Moreover, PIAC argues that Canadian wireless providers should be required to implement a monthly bill limit for data roaming to safeguard consumers against bill shock. The monthly limit would be chosen by the subscriber or default to $50 in addition to the subscriber’s monthly fees, and temporarily suspend data service when the subscriber incurs roaming fees exceeding this limit.

PIAC is also recommending greater transparency regarding wholesale roaming rates paid and charged by Canadian wireless service providers to the CRTC. The report notes that European regulators regulate the wholesale and retail rates for international roaming and many other foreign regulators have studied the issue of international roaming rates.

In the meantime, PIAC suggests the federal government and the CRTC should examine the wholesale cost of roaming through bilateral and multilateral negotiations with other countries, ensuring that countries with the largest number of Canadian visitors are given priority. “Since a vast majority of Canadian tourists travel to the United States, it only makes sense for the CRTC and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to initially engage in such discussions,” noted Lo.

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has been advocating greater regulation in the mobile communications industry for some time. "This report indicates exactly what we've been saying, Canadian consumers are being gauged by wireless companies," said James Clancy, NUPGE National President. "We need the federal government to take a stronger role in monitoring the sector and making regulations mandatory rather than leaving it up to the discretion of self-interested big business."

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Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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