CRTC Investigates Cellphone Roaming Fees – Regulation Coming?

by Istvan Fekete on September 11, 2013

The new wireless code Canada’s telecommunications regulator laid down based on consumer and carrier input didn’t include rules for the actual rates wireless players charge. But the consumer uproar over high roaming fees has prompted the CRTC to launch a separate investigation into the issue, the Financial Post reports.

The new wireless code going into effect in December will set a new $100 limit on data roaming charges designed to avoid the bill shock some Canadians faced earlier this year after a trip outside the country. You may recall that, in one of the cases, roaming charges went up to $22,000, but finally Rogers agreed to lower the bill to a “decent” amount.

Up until now, the CRTC has refrained from regulating wireless rates, but at the end of last month made a formal request for information from carriers on the wholesale rates they pay to or charge competitors for roaming on each others’ networks both inside and outside Canada.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the telecommunications regulator will step in and regulate roaming fees – one of the major complaints of Canadian wireless subscribers –analysts suggest that as a possibility.

According to John Macri, director of telecommunications policy at the CRTC, the investigation was prompted by a “quietly simmering” issue over the past year, and the summer’s debate over wireless policy with respect to the forthcoming wireless auction.

“There have been some notes from the public that there’s some concern there,” he said in an interview, adding the commission undertook to research the issue but could only gather so much data from what was publicly available, since the wholesale rates providers charge each other is commercially sensitive.

“We do have the authority, if we feel there is a market failure, to step in and regulate those rates, but we’re far from that at this point — we’re still in fact-finding mode,” Mr. Macri said.

In fact, some incumbents have publicly acknowledged that roaming fees have become a touchy issue for Canadian wireless subscribers.

“The data rates we pay for access to global networks — because data has exploded — is one of the real issues for us to try to get down. We have to reduce our cost of access to the other carrier so we can pass some of those through to the Canadian marketplace as quickly as we can find ways,” Mr. Cope said at the BMO Capital Markets media and telecom conference.

“We’ve put caps on, we’re trying to do everything we can for users to manage that issue — it’s not a Canadian-only issue — but Canadians don’t really care about what’s happening in the other markets, they care about what’s happening here.”

The CRTC is expecting carriers to provide the required information by September 27, with its next step depending on what the commission learns.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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