Canada's third-largest mobile carrier is taking aim at one of the biggest sources of "bill shock" for wireless customers.
Telus Corp. is warning that a move to set a default cap of roaming charges at $50 would spur "unintended consequences" that would hurt consumers and unnecessarily drive up compliance costs for industry players.
The proposal calls for consumers to be notified when they hit 50 per cent, 80 per cent and 100 per cent of their usage limits, and for a cap of extra payment – meaning those services would stop working until the customer agrees to pay more money. The draft code proposals, under debate at a public hearing this week by the federal telecommunications regulator, were based on feedback it received from a variety of stakeholders, including consumers and carriers.
Telus, which was one of the first carriers to urge the creation of new national standards that will govern the $19-billion wireless industry, cautioned on Monday that proposals to impose spending caps on additional fees such as roaming rates or mandating real-time usage notifications on voice calls would amount to "intrusive" regulation.
"We fear that some of the more prescriptive and counterintuitive proposals in the discussion draft would result in less consumer choice, whereas we should be encouraging more creativity and choice," said Ted Woodhead, Telus's senior vice-president of federal government and regulatory affairs.
In a draft code released at the end of January, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission indicated it was mulling whether to cap a variety of extra fees. In addition to roaming rates, caps could also apply to fees consumers accumulate by making long-distance calls, using more than their allotted monthly voice minutes, sending text messages or by streaming video.
"For customers on post-paid plans, our view is that so long as their carrier is providing adequate notifications of when additional data or roaming charges might be incurred, then there should be no need to impose spending caps on all services," said Brent Johnston, Telus's vice-president of mobility solutions.
In addition to sending notifications to consumers, Telus's current "international data blocks" are triggered starting at the $200 level. Consumers who want a firm ceiling placed on their monthly usage can always opt for prepaid services, he added.
Requiring carriers to absorb higher costs by providing real-time voice notifications could lead to price hikes on entry-level rate plans, Mr. Johnston said. That sentiment was echoed by the lobbyist group Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association: "I think you can create a situation where there is notification fatigue for the consumer," chief executive officer Bernard Lord said. "It is like fire alarms that go off every day."
Earlier in the day, a trio of consumer groups said international data roaming is often the biggest source of discontent for wireless customers. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Consumers' Association of Canada and the Council of Senior Citizens' Organizations of British Columbia all support the draft code's pre-set default cap of $50 a month for additional fees.
"The option for consumers to customize the default cut-off is thus key to maximize consumer control, as we cannot generalize that all consumers can afford an additional $50 on their monthly wireless bill," said Janet Lo, PIAC's co-counsel.
In the runup to the CRTC hearings, Rogers Communications Inc. announced a less costly wireless data roaming package for customers who take short trips to the United States. Rogers will become the next major carrier to address the hearings on Tuesday, while BCE Inc. is scheduled to appear on Thursday.