Telecoms urge watchdog to scrap proposed caps on data usage

Two of the country’s largest telecom companies have some advice for Canada’s telecommunications regulator as it considers imposing new rules for cellphone contracts: scrap the $50 cap.

GATINEAU, Que. — Two of the country’s largest telecom companies have some advice for Canada’s telecommunications regulator as it considers imposing new rules for cellphone contracts: scrap the $50 cap.

A $50 spending limit on extra wireless data charges is one of several ideas on the table as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission holds hearings on a proposed new wireless code.

But executives from Rogers Communications and Telus Corp. say a spending cap would be a bad idea.

“That’s very disruptive to customers,” Rogers’ regulatory chief Ken Engelhart said Tuesday. “It’s very disruptive to be cut off.”

Under the CRTC’s draft code, wireless companies would have to suspend some services when a customer reaches either $50 in additional charges over and above what they pay for their monthly plan — though roaming fees, for example — or an amount each consumer would set.

Earlier Tuesday, Telus told the commission it already caps charges incurred outside Canada at $200, according to the Financial Post.

There are better ways to warm customers about their data usage, such as alerts sent to a handheld device, Rogers executives said.

“Even with these precautions, Rogers recognizes that some customers remain concerned about data services,” said Raj Doshi, the company’s head of products.

“Unlike voice and text messaging, data usage is more passive and it can be difficult for a customer to understand just how much of their allowance they have used.

“This is why Rogers supports requiring near-real-time alerts advising customers when they are approaching the limits of their data allowances, both domestically and abroad.

“These alerts address a real need by consumers and will help them avoid bill surprise from data services, currently the biggest source of unanticipated charges.”

Alerts for voice and text services aren’t worth the expense since they are rarely the source of surprise charges, Doshi said.

But alerts only go so far, Engelhart added.

“No matter how much you warn people, 50, 60, 75 per cent will ignore you.”

The telecom regulator is holding a week of hearings in Gatineau, Que., as it aims to set national standards for the content and clarity of cellphone contracts.

Much of the testimony so far has focused on the length of cellphone contracts, locked devices and roaming and cancellation fees.

On the second day of the hearings, the telecom regulator heard from Telus, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, OpenMedia.ca and academics.

One of the academics suggested the issues that have come up at the hearing suggest there’s a lack of competition in the marketplace.

Wireless contracts written in clear language would be a start, but more needs to be done, said Catherine Middleton, the Canada Research Chair in Communication Technologies in the Information Society at Ryerson University in Toronto.

“Action is needed beyond informing consumers of the terms of their contracts,” Middleton said.

The CRTC has suggested companies would need to comply with a new wireless code within six months of it coming into force.

But Rogers urged the regulator to roll out its wireless code in stages. While some of the proposed changes can be made swiftly, the company said, others could take as long as a year and a half.

“There is no reason why at least some of the recommendations could not be implemented in the short term,” Engelhart said.

“Those changes requiring more significant work can then be allotted additional time.”

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