Bill Shock From Roaming Still a Misunderstood Hodgepodge

By Craig Galbraith Comments
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**Editor's Note: Click here for a recap of some of the worst cases of bill shock of all time.**

Those who travel internationally are having one heck of a hard time understanding the charges they incur from wireless roaming, no matter which operator runs their network. It's one of the least understood aspects of billing, a new report shows.

Canada's Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) took a look at wireless service, billing practices and consumer experiences related to international data roaming fees, and how these fees affect the wireless-device usage of consumers when outside of Canada – but the report can certainly be applied to wireless customers around the globe. It also provides a comparative look at consumer-protection measures implemented and considered in other countries to determine what actions, if any, are required to limit how often Canadian consumers experience bill shock.

“Canadians are clearly frustrated with international data roaming fees they currently pay and are scared of unexpectedly large bills from their wireless provider when they travel," said Janet Lo, legal counsel at the PIAC, and co-author of the report.

PIAC found that nearly nine in 10 Canadian consumers surveyed feel they pay too much for wireless data when they travel outside of Canada, while that same number have received an unexpectedly large wireless bill for data roaming charges while traveling.

In addition, the report found that a majority of Canadians think billing related to international roaming charges is difficult to understand; they rarely buy a data plan add-on, and if they do, feel they paid too much for it; they aren't confident in estimating the cost of their international data roaming travelling; they believe regulation is required to compel wireless service providers to notify consumers about the charges they have incurred for roaming while they’re travelling; and they remain insecure about using their wireless device while traveling internationally, since almost half (44 percent) of respondents surveyed prefer to leave the device turned off while they travel and nearly one in six (16 percent) simply leaves their wireless device at home.

The PIAC is recommending that the Canadian Radio-Television Communications Commission (CRTC) require wireless carriers to notify subscribers via text message of the applicable international data roaming rates when they enter another country. The European Union has similar usage-alert regulations and the U.S. is part way through implementing similar measures that are voluntary for carriers (although most are complying).

The PIAC also recommends that Canadian wireless providers be required to implement a monthly bill limit for data roaming to safeguard consumers against bill shock. The monthly limit would be chosen by the subscriber or default to $50 in addition to the subscriber’s monthly fees, and temporarily suspend data service when the subscriber incurs roaming fees exceeding this limit.

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