Bell is giving in to pressure from its subscribers and announced Monday that it is lowering the cost of its most popular out-of-country plans.
The move comes as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission takes an increasingly hard line on roaming fees, which are amassed when a cellphone user leaves the country and piggybacks on another carrier's network. Earlier this year it told cellphone companies they must warn subscribers when they reach certain usage limits, and last month it raised the spectre of regulating the amounts the companies charge their subscribers as it launched another review.
Bell didn't mention the CRTC as it announced its new rate plan, which will cut prices by as much as 50 per cent for subscribers travelling to the United States with their phones. Instead, it said it was doing it because of the feedback it received over the summer as it fought against the entry of Verizon into Canada and lobbied for the federal government to change the rules to make it more difficult for large foreign carriers to come to Canada and buy spectrum and small carriers in a bid to compete in this market against established players.
Canada's largest wireless company, Rogers Communications Inc., also cut its rates earlier this summer.
"During the summer, Canadians told the federal government that they support wireless competition and strongly believe the wireless rules should be the same for all carriers, Canadian or international. But Canadians also told us that they want to use their smartphones a lot when they travel, and they want the price to come down," Bell stated. "We're starting with the most popular destination, and Bell is committed to working with our global telecom partners to further reduce international roaming costs for our customers."
Bell's parent company BCE Inc. owns a 15-per-cent stake in The Globe and Mail.
About 18 million Canadians a year cross the U.S. border, spending an estimated $800-million a year in roaming fees. These are fees charged by the carriers, which strike agreements with local cellphone providers that give customers temporary access to another network without having to get a new cellphone while out of the country.
Many have complained that they come home to giant cellphone bills, which prompted the CRTC to set a $100 cap on additional phone charges and $50 for data unless a consumer explicitly agrees to spend more to keep using their phones.
Speaking at the BMO Nesbitt Burns media and telecom conference last week, chief executive George Cope said Bell realized that prices were often restrictively high for roaming, and said the company was trying 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."
"We've put caps on, we're trying to do everything we can for users to manage that issue, users move to WiFi etc. 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," he said.