Almost everyone will agree that Canada’s wireless bills are among the highest in industrialized countries. The Big Three – Rogers, Bell and Telus – for the most part, dictate pricing and policy. The large watchdog organization in Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), instituted the Wireless Code of Conduct in 2013 to help give customers more say when it comes to Canada’s national carriers. They were instrumental in getting rid of three-year contracts and keeping them to only two years, but that move never had the impact in lowering bills they were hoping. When customers complained they were getting hit with huge bills due to overages in data usage or roaming fees, the Wireless Code made it mandatory that the user had to authorize any fees over $50, however, a recent Marketplace study shows that some customers are still receiving large bills.
The study showed that every one of the Big Three – Rogers, Bell and Telus – allow anyone associated with a family share plan to okay the overages simply by replying ‘YES’ to a text message warning them that they had reached their $50 limit. Minors on the share plan could also okay the overages without receiving parental consent. Marketplace interviewed many teens and found out they had given permission for hundreds and even thousands of dollars in overages without their parents’ knowledge – until the bill arrives. One parent received a bill for more than $1,700 in data charges and naturally thought it was a mistake, although she later found out the charges were authorized by her son. She complained to Bell and they knocked the charges in half, but later complained to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunication Services and the charges were removed altogether. The Commissioner, Howard Maker, said about these overages, “It doesn’t accord with our view of what the code requires — in letter or in spirit.”
The carriers would not speak to the Marketplace on camera, but assured them they all have ways to help parents monitor their accounts. Bell claims their policies are clearly defined in the company’s terms of service, they comply with the Wireless Code and there are ways customers can block data upon request. Bell said that parents can block data for a small additional cost, but still allow picture and video messaging. Rogers said, “We have determined that for a variety of reasons, including the safety of our customers, our default position is to enable each user to accept additional data charges.” They will also block data if requested to do so. In other words, you can either block data altogether (some with a fee) or allow any user to authorize additional data charges.
Maker is taking the stand that the carriers are misinterpreting the Wireless Code’s language and that clearly only the person responsible for paying the bill should have the right to approve additional charges. Minors should not be allowed to make this decision and the CRTC said it will be reviewing the Wireless Code in the next two years to look at “gaps in the Code that need to be addressed, to provide more comprehensive protection for Canadians in light of the evolving practices of the wireless service providers.”