Canada’s telecommunications regulator said it will take aim at roaming rates, a lucrative revenue source for telecom companies, after the Industry Minister criticized carriers for recent price hikes.
Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne on Thursday sent a letter to Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission chairperson Vicky Eatrides, calling for a review of international roaming rates after price hikes by Bell and Telus early this month.
In his letter, Mr. Champagne noted that the increase in roaming fees was particularly concerning given that prices for those services are declining in other jurisdictions, and because these fees are often unpredictable and difficult to understand.
“This is part of a concerning trend to charge more for existing services broadly at a time when inflationary pressures are making it difficult for Canadians to pay their bills,” Mr. Champagne said.
He suggested that increases in ancillary fees such as roaming fees could be used as a mechanism by a carrier to raise consumer prices without affecting the visible prices used to advertise plans.
“We take seriously attempts to increase Canadians’ bills through ancillary fees,” Ms. Eatrides said in a letter responding to Mr. Champagne. Ms. Eatrides said the CRTC has already started researching the issue.
“Our preliminary results confirm what many Canadians are feeling – that international roaming rates we pay are higher,” Ms. Eatrides said.
At the beginning of March, Telus Corp. T-T said that it would be raising its prices by $1 to $16 a day for international roaming, and by $2 to $14 a day for U.S. roaming. Around the same time, BCE Inc.’s BCE-T Bell Canada said it was raising its U.S. roaming prices by $1 to $13, and its international roaming charge by $1 to $16.
Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-B-T has no plans to increase roaming rates, company spokesman Cam Gordon said.
The company is currently awaiting Mr. Champagne’s approval of its $20-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc., a deal that has faced extensive political scrutiny.
Customers of carriers in European Union countries do not pay any roaming fees while travelling to other member states as a result of the EU’s “Roam-like-at-home” regulation, which was extended by 10 years in July, 2022.
International roaming fees have been a substantial boost to carriers’ bottom lines in recent quarters as pandemic restrictions were loosened and Canadians resumed international travel.
Keldon Bester, a co-founder of the Canadian Anti-Monopoly Project, a non-profit think tank that has received funding from Globalive Capital Inc., said that a CRTC review could compel the carriers to disclose their costs, margins and justifications for the price increases: “Why are they doing this, and why are Telus and Bell doing it in lockstep?”
The CRTC requires that the carriers suspend services once a customer’s monthly bill reaches $100 unless they give express consent to paying additional charges. The regulator first set this cap in 2013 with its establishment of the Wireless Code, which followed the commission’s finding of discriminatory practice among domestic roaming services charges.
“It’s a little disappointing to see that 10 years on from when this all began, the minister is still having to ask what’s going on here,” said Ben Klass, a telecom researcher at Carleton University, calling the carriers’ roaming-rate hikes “hard to justify.”