New Canadian CRTC Wireless Code will Eliminate Bill Shock

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

For the past couple of years I have been blogging to Canadians and others about how to save money on international data roaming by obtaining foreign SIM cards in advance of traveling.  I had expected that for us Canadians, the bulk of my posts would become redundant with the CRTC’s introduction of the Wireless Code yesterday.  Outrageous international roaming fees were a core topic of discussion when designing the Code, so it was presumed these would be addressed and brought down to earth.

The purpose of the Wireless Code, as stated by the CRTC, is threefold:

  1. make it easier for individual and small business customers to obtain and understand the information in their wireless service contracts;
  2. establish consumer-friendly business practices for the wireless service industry where necessary; and
  3. contribute to a more dynamic wireless market.

The CRTC includes very specific elements in its new Wireless Code, but the component that is relevant to this blog is that which discusses international data roaming.

Section E.2. of the new Wireless Code, entitled “Cap on data roaming charges” specifically states:

  1. A service provider must suspend national and international data roaming charges once they reach $100 within a single monthly billing cycle, unless the customer expressly consents to pay additional charges.
  2. A service provider must provide this cap at no charge.

Many of the national and regional newspapers carrying the story are reflecting that this new standard will eliminate bill shock and limit data roaming fees to a single maximum fee , implying that international roamers could surf with abandon knowing that they would only pay $100 extra upon return.  Even the title of this section of the Code implies that.  But as far as how I interpret the code, this is not really the case.  All the Code says is that wireless carriers are legally obliged to disable data roaming on a consumer’s account once their bill reaches $100.

Canadian consumers have been complaining about the high cost of data roaming for some time, and it was hoped that the new CRTC code would actually regulate these fees and bring them in line with international roaming fees that consumers in other countries pay.  All this new rule achieves though is to force wireless carriers to shut off data access once a consumer has accumulated a $100 roaming bill, which could take as little as a few seconds in most regions.

The other kicker is that these new rules apply only to new consumer contracts signed after December 2, 2013, so it does nothing to protect those of us already under contract.

Want to continue to surf economically when roaming?  Stick to our plan:

  1. Buy an Unlocked phone, or pay to have your subsidized phone unlocked, so you can use any mobile phone carrier’s SIM cards
  2. Buy a domestic SIM card when you arrive in the country you’re traveling to, or buy one in advance
  3. Use a VoIP app on your smartphone (Fongo, Skype) to bypass the traditional telephone network to make and receive traditional telephone calls