Roaming rates getting another look by CRTC
Roaming rates paid by cellphone users when they're travelling in Canada and the U.S. will get more scrutiny by the CRTC, which is considering possible regulations as a result of consumer complaints.
More than 35 telecom companies had to submit information on the terms and conditions of their roaming rates to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission by Friday.
The CRTC had set the deadline after hearing consumers' concerns that the cost of roaming on another carrier's network could be "unreasonable."
"A decision on whether there is a need to intervene will be made once the CRTC has reviewed the information it has asked the wireless companies to provide," the CRTC's Chris Seidl said in an emailed statement.
The additional information will also help it determine the choices available to consumers and the competitiveness of Canada's wireless industry, said Seidl, executive director of telecommunications at the CRTC.
Telecom analyst Eamon Hoey said he expects the CRTC to regulate roaming rates, adding it's the beginning of more regulation for the wireless industry.
"Consumers are more than just a bit annoyed at the rates that they're paying not only for basic cellular service, but for roaming, for additional charges, for contracts, you name it," said Hoey, of Hoey Associates Management Consultants Inc. in Toronto.
Hoey also said Bell (TSX:BCE), Telus (TSX:T) and Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) didn't do themselves any favours with consumers or the federal government with their publicity blitz against big U.S. carrier Verizon, which had expressed some interest in Canada's wireless market but decided against coming north earlier this month.
Rates aren't low enough, he said, adding that Canada's wireless carriers "pay in pennies per minute" to foreign carriers such as Verizon, AT&T and U.K.-based Vodafone for their roaming agreements.
Rogers said it has provided the CRTC with the information it requested, but doesn't know if it will result in regulated roaming rates.
"We know people find it complicated and it's really hard for people to calculate how much data they're using," spokeswoman Patricia Trott said.
Toronto-based Rogers said its $7.99 daily roaming rate to the U.S. has been in place for several months. On Friday, Rogers added high-speed wireless service from AT&T to its U.S. roaming services for Canadian customers.
Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said the Vancouver-based company has negotiated new rates with hundreds of carriers around the world, which has allowed it to reduce roaming rates by 60 per cent or more over the last couple of years. Telus has said its rates have consistently been lower than its competitors.
"We heard customers say they were worried about bill shock," Hall said.
But roaming rates need to be at a "market rate" that encourage wireless companies to keep upgrading their networks, he added.
Bell recently cut its 30-day U.S. travel bundle in half to $25. Spokesman Mark Langton said Bell will continue lowering roaming prices.
The CRTC's new wireless code, which will apply to new contracts for cellphones and other mobile devices starting on Dec. 2, requires additional roaming charges be capped at $100 unless the customer has agreed to pay more.
It has asked carriers for information such as retail roaming rates for voice, data and text messaging from 2007 to 2012 and to list all of the changes to these rates and the dates when each change took effect in that period.
The CRTC also has asked carriers to list the top four U.S.-based carriers with whom their customers incur the most roaming traffic.
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