Consumers with shared wireless accounts advised to watch out for overage fees


Consumers are being advised to vigilantly check their wireless data consumption and roaming fees, as it looks increasingly unlikely that Canadian telecoms will implement notification methods required under a new wireless code by the December deadline.

The advice comes after Telus Corp. (TSX:T) and Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B) told the CRTC recently that they won’t be able to implement enhanced overage notifications by Dec. 1, because of the technical complexity.

Vancouver-based Telus asked the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for permission to extend the deadline for updating its billing system to March 31, 2018 – although it anticipates some changes will be completed before that time. Rogers has also told the CRTC that it wants to defer having its billing system in compliance with the wireless code until May 31.

Bell did not respond to requests for comment from The Canadian Press. The CRTC site did not have a public posting from Bell as of late Monday.

Canada’s wireless carriers were told last June that they had until Dec. 1 to comply with a number of regulations, including how they set caps on wireless data usage and who is authorized to accept extra charges for accounts with more than one device user.

The delays will likely affect only a small category of consumers — such as families with shared data plans or some vacationers travelling outside Canada, independent telecommunications consultant Mark Goldberg said Monday.

Carriers are already required to send warnings about potential overage fees to individual devices, but not necessarily to the account holder who’s responsible for paying the bills for all the devices, he added.

“The twist that has come in is that the CRTC wants notifications to the account holder, not the wireless handset user when they’re roaming or going over a limit,” Goldberg said in an interview.

“You’ve now, basically, touched the billing and administration system and have it interacting with the switching system in a way that they hadn’t done before.”

Critics of the current system have said account holders can face shockingly high bills if the carrier’s overage warnings are sent to an account’s secondary device — possibly carried by a spouse or child — rather than the primary device.

Goldberg said that the CRTC will likely agree to the delays requested by Rogers and Telus, because they’d said early this year that they may need more than six months to put in place changes that the CRTC announced in mid-June.

In the meantime, he said, it’s wise to keep smartphones on “airplane mode” while the device is out of the country — whether travelling by plane, car or cruise ship — unless the data roaming fees are understood and acceptable.

“Because if you think international roaming charges are high, wait until you take a look at what maritime roaming charges are,” Goldberg said.

Rogers and Telus said in their filings to the CRTC that the customers always have the right to bring billing complaints to the carriers or to the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services.

However, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, an Ottawa-based not-for-profit organization that frequently comments on telecommunications policy, said in a filing to the CRTC that the regulator should deny the requested delays.

PIAC’s position is that the CRTC’s instructions in June actually reinforce billing obligations to notify account holders of data overages that have been in place since 2013.

Wireless carriers have been required to apply data caps at the account level, rather than at the device level, under the original 2013 wireless code, PIAC’s legal counsel Ben Brown wrote in a letter posted on the CRTC website.

“Rather than attempting to micromanage each carrier’s ability to comply with regulatory obligations, the Commission should simply force carriers to bear the consequences of their regulatory non-compliance.”

However, Goldberg said it’s unlikely the CRTC can penalize the carriers for missing the Dec. 1 decline for changing their billing systems, because the regulator was warned of the difficulty before setting the deadline.

Goldberg also noted that the carriers are on track to meet all the other Wireless Code revisions, such as selling new phones in an unlocked condition, by the Dec. 1 deadline.

David Paddon, The Canadian Press