The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said Thursday it was already reviewing roaming charges for wireless services, as Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne voiced his concerns. concerns about rising supplier prices amid falling phone bills in other countries.
In a letter to CRTC President and CEO Vicky Eatrides, Minister Champagne asked the federal telecommunications regulator to review the increase in roaming charges, reminding her that he was playing an important role promoting affordability and helping consumers make informed decisions.
In a response letter, Eatrides pointed out that the CRTC has already begun comparing the roaming prices of Canadian carriers to carriers in other countries. In particular, she argued that ancillary charges have “the potential to undermine the work we’re doing to lower wireless prices.”
“Our preliminary results confirm what many Canadians suspect: the international roaming prices we pay are higher. We will soon be commissioning a study to [us] look at this issue in more detail,” Eatrides wrote.
“As a telecommunications regulator, we take seriously attempts to increase the bills of Canadians through ancillary charges. We will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to address this type of behavior and will keep Canadians informed of any developments. »
Earlier this month, Telus and Bell both increased their roaming rates in the United States and abroad. Telus customers now have to pay $14 per day to travel within the United States, up from $12 previously, while those visiting other destinations pay $16 per day, an increase of $1.
Bell users face daily roaming charges of $13 in the US, down from $12 previously, and $16 in other countries, down from $15 previously.
The two telecommunications companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter.
Rogers, which says it has no plans to make a similar hike, charges $12 and $15 respectively for daily roaming in the U.S. and internationally. The company said it was studying the minister’s letter.
Roaming charges are part of a “worrying trend of charging more for existing services at a time when inflationary pressures are making it hard for Canadians to pay their mail carriers,” the letter says. Mr. Champagne.
Gerry Wall, President of Wall Communications, pointed out that roaming charges have risen dramatically since 2019, when each of Canada’s major carriers charged around $8 a day to make calls, text or use mobile data in the United States. United.
This leaves occasional travelers in a less attractive situation.
“Over a four-year period, you’re talking about an increase of almost 50% or more,” calculated Wall, whose company publishes an annual report comparing the prices of phone and internet services in Canada with those of other countries.
“For anyone traveling overseas who doesn’t have a plan that includes long distance calls between the US and Canada, this is a big blow. »
Minister Champagne acknowledged that the CRTC’s wireless code does not prevent carriers from increasing international roaming charges.
However, he noted that this code includes consumer protection provisions, such as those requiring service providers to notify users when they are roaming in another country and suspending charges without further consent when they reach $100.
Champagne said companies could use these increases to drive up costs without consumers knowing, because the list price, which is more visible when buying a phone plan, remains unchanged.
“Increases in this type of ancillary charge add to the cost of the consumer’s bill which in this case exceeds the list price,” he said in his letter.
“In many cases, these fees are much less visible and are unpredictable or difficult for consumers to understand. »
While Mr. Wall downplayed that concern, noting that customers receive notifications when price changes occur, he said such decisions reflect carriers’ attitude that “their customers are here to stay.”
“Your decision becomes ‘do I want to go through the hassle of trying to find an alternative provider that doesn’t increase their roaming rates, or is that just too much of a hassle for me?’ “, he explained.
The Minister has already ordered the CRTC to implement new rules to strengthen consumer rights, affordability, competition and universal accessibility.
The agency has since moved to cut some wholesale internet rates by 10% as part of a review aimed at boosting competition and lowering costs for consumers. It also launched a consultation with the aim of “strengthening the resilience and reliability” of telecommunications networks.
Mr. Champagne welcomed both steps in his letter, saying they underscore “the importance of the CRTC’s role in promoting competition and protecting consumers.”
Next week’s federal budget will offer details of the Liberals’ plan to crack down on hidden or unexpected consumer charges, a source told La Presse Canadienne.
While the budget should provide more detail on the types of charges the federal government wants to apply, common examples are additional charges for phone or internet services or those for flights or event tickets.
The official, who requested anonymity to discuss issues that are not yet public because they will be unveiled in the budget next week, said the CRTC was among the regulators that should be involved in this effort. .