Hurray for Melanie Aitken at the Competition Bureau

September 18 2012 by Ellen Roseman

Melanie Aitken took on Canada’s powerful real estate agents during her time as competition commissioner. Last week, she unveiled a few more surprises.

The Competition Bureau filed charges against three of the country’s largest cellphone providers, alleging they allowed third-parties to trick cellphone subscribers into signing up for expensive text services and then took up to 60 per cent of the profits.

It also ordered Rogers, Bell, Telus and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association to pay $31 million in penalties and refunds to customers.

And in today’s Globe and Mail, Aitken expressed concerns about the anti-competitive aspects of Bell’s $3.4 billion acquisiton of Astral Media.

“This is a complex transaction. It troubles a lot of people,” she said, adding that her departure this week shouldn’t have any effect on the bureau’s current work.

I was thrilled to see the lawsuit against Big Telecom for enabling the transmission of third-party premium text messages. Not only do I get a steady stream of complaints, but I called on the bureau to investigate this practice a year ago.

Bernard Lord, head of the wireless lobby, seemed upset to find that the bureau wouldn’t agree to chase a few rogue text providers. Instead, it put the blame squarely on the companies trasnsmitting the messages to unwitting consumers.

Adieu, Ms. Aitken. Consumers are sorry to see you leave. Let’s hope that your willingness to tackle Canada’s business elite continues to enliven the bureau’s work.

Talking about complaints, I still hear a lot about outrageous bills from telecom providers over data roaming. I did a column and a follow-up in the Star this week.

I’m posting comments below, including advice from wireless carriers on how to avoid data roaming shocks. I wish they were more forthcoming in their everyday communication with customers.

24 comments

  1. Jason Laszlo, Bell Canada spokesman

    Sep 18 2012

    For useful advice on travelling with a mobile phone, including many ways to reduce costs, customers can visit http://www.Bell.ca/Travel before leaving home.

    Customers should check if their particular mobile device will work in the destination country and consider how they expect to use the device overseas – i.e. voice calling only or data usage too, such as checking email, using the internet, apps, etc.

    Customers can then make educated decisions about what suits them best and choose an appropriate voice or data package. Customers can explore the various packages online at Bell.ca, at a Bell store or by calling customer support.

    To help inform and educate customers, we introduced real-time data roaming usage text message alerts.

    A text message is automatically sent when a travelling customer reaches pre-determined data usage thresholds and includes a number to call for free from their device for more details or to sign up for a data roaming plan if they hadn’t already.

    To ensure customers don’t come home to a larger than expected bill, upon reaching 100 MB, the data roaming service is suspended.

    It can be restored either at the customer’s request or automatically after 30 days from the start of their data roaming.

    This new service complements our welcome text message, which advises customers of local roaming rates when they turn on their device for the first time after arriving at their destination.

    Some tips for travellers…

    Understand your typical data usage in a month while you’re not roaming to gauge if you need to adjust your data usage when you do roam. For example, if you typically use an average 200 MB of data per week at home, consider the cost of using that much data, even with the best data roaming rate offered, while travelling.

    Consider the possibility that you may be tempted to use applications that generate a lot of data usage while travelling that you would normally not use at home. The possibility may exist that your data usage might actually be higher than it would normally be for the same amount of time back home, not lower.

    Examples include locating places on Google maps, e-mailing or picture messaging photographs taken on your trip, communicating much more via e-mail than you would at home, downloading travel applications, all of which use significant amounts of data.

    Adjust your data usage while travelling if you’re typically a heavy data-user at home. Use Wi-Fi when possible for the heavy data usage – uploading photos, downloading or sending emails with big attachments, maps, YouTube, downloading apps.

    Change a few settings on your device to reduce data usage. For example, close apps that you are not using to avoid them using data unknowingly. Set your email to only manually download email, as opposed to setting to download regularly or when received.

  2. Donna Ramirez, Telus Mobility spokeswoman

    Sep 18 2012

    Accessing your data network when travelling is great because you can keep in contact with friends and family, use the apps you want and browse the web.

    However, to avoid incurring unexpected charges while travelling, you should keep an eye on how much data your smartphones or tablets are consuming.

    Our new worry-free international travel prices build on the customer-friendly clear and simple strategy we started in 2009. This includes clear and simple rate plans, free SMS data notifications, device unlocking and early device upgrade — to name a few.

    If you plan on travelling abroad this fall, here are a few useful tips from TELUS:

    · Get set up for international roaming before you leave: TELUS customers can confirm if they’re set up for international roaming by texting “travel” to 7626 on their device. Customers not activated for international roaming can call *611 to get provisioned. Once a customer lands in another country, they’ll receive a free SMS message informing them of the voice, SMS and data rates in that country.

    · Get in the know before you go: Visit your carrier’s website to learn more about travel rates, passes and offers. Find out more about international travel rates on telusmobility.com: http://bit.ly/RoJ5Fr

    · Use a Travel Pass: If you are travelling to the United States, adding a US travel pass in advance of your trip will help keep your mobility bill in check. TELUS customers can add a US travel pass on their device by texting “save” to 7626.

    · Watch for data usage notifications: TELUS will send customers a text message to their device notifying them of their data roaming usage. To avoid incidental charges on your monthly bill while travelling outside Canada and the US, TELUS will automatically block data services and send customers a text notification asking if they want to continue using data services. If they want to continue, they simply respond yes at any time to restore international data services.

    Customers can check telusmobility.com to learn more about the three levels of data usage: http://bit.ly/U9Mpon

    · Use Wi-Fi when possible: Using Wi-Fi to share photos on Facebook, open or send big attachments and browse the Internet is another way to control your costs overseas. Just make sure you turn off data roaming on your device and select the local Wi-Fi network.

    · Extended travel: TELUS offers a device unlocking service to our postpaid wireless customers to make it possible for them to use their devices on foreign networks when they are travelling for an extended period of time. The service is available to customers who have been on the TELUS network for a minimum of 90 days and are using one of our eligible SIM-based devices.

  3. Patricia Law, Rogers spokeswoman

    Sep 18 2012

    Here are a number of customer education initiatives we’ve implemented when it comes to roaming:

    · http://www.Rogers.com/Roaming: This webpage on our site includes useful travel tips, product information, plus talk & text/roaming packages available to our customers.

    · RedBoard: We also post several features on our http://www.RedBoard.rogers.com blog to educate customers in this area. You can see an example of a previous roaming post here:
    http://redboard.rogers.com/2012/rogers-march-break-checklist-limit-your-roaming-costs/

    · Connected Magazine: This is our Rogers customer magazine available in print and online (www.connectedmagazine.ca). We regularly post useful articles and how-to tutorials on Rogers products and services.

    Here’s another interesting article from Connected on roaming: http://www.connectedmagazine.ca/news/travel-checklist-6-ways-to-stay-connected/.

    We also incorporate educational information on our travel/roaming products through our sales and marketing campaigns, for example, back of envelope pieces to advertise our roaming packages during the traveling seasons.

  4. NAAP

    Sep 18 2012

    I saw your article and I must say, great timing.

    I am currently having an issue with my wireless provider over roaming charges I incurred when at a “Wi-Fi” airport on my way back from a 10-day vacation.

    I had disabled my data and had the phone off the whole time, but that morning while at the airport, I turned my phone on to make 2 calls and that’s it.

    I know for a fact I turned off the roaming, so I do not understand how I now have a $724 bill with Fido.

    I am on the phone with them and the rep had the nerve to tell me she can only knock off $50. What a slap in the face. I would not foolishly use my data, knowing this.

    My Fido phone is my only source of communication and I am a single parent. For me to have to pay all of that back for something I never did is killing me.

    Times are hard as it is for me this year already. I would appreciate any help or guidance you can give.

  5. PW

    Sep 18 2012

    Great that you brought up the cash grab the local telecoms make on ‘roaming’ charges. Would be great if you exposed how bad that aspect is.

    Roaming charges have been a thorn in the side for a long time and I’ve managed to avoid them buying local SIM cards when traveling. When you do that, you see how ridiculous roaming charges are.

    One of the major carriers charges $6/MB in the US and $8/MB in Europe. Local cards will do that much cheaper: $50US bought me 500 minutes of phone time and 500 MB of data — and they gave me a phone. Less than $0.10/MB.

    In Europe, 15 Euros (about $20) gets you a month’s use up to 1 GB, or about $0.02/MB.

    The fact you can get the telecoms to waive some of their costs is great. But I think further exposure will embarrass them even further, providing customers greater savings and also bringing the telecoms back business from people like me who’ve figured it out.

    I purchased an unlocked phone and I get local SIM cards where ever I travel. Soooooo cheap.

    I do have a Bell BlackBerry, which I switch off and only update via wi-fi when abroad.

    Samsung had a great phone with 2 SIM card slots, so you could switch back and forth.

    Friend of mine just up from the states has two phones to carry around for business. Why? Because of the roaming charges.

  6. MS

    Sep 18 2012

    It was kind of you to help people reduce their excessive data fee charges when roaming.

    It would be good to have a global solution to the problem. It is unreasonable to expect most consumers to have the skills and devote the time to understand the nitty gritty of mobile communications traffic.

    At present, almost all phones have an airplane mode that turns off all communications (cell, wifi, bluetooth) to comply with aircraft landing and takeoff regulations.

    I propose that carriers place a roaming mode setting on their phones to disable all traffic over the cell line (but
    not wifi) other than phone and texting.

    If a user or an app tried to do this, a message would appear telling them they are blocked and how to unblock if they so wish.

    Since only one setting is involved, it is a trivial matter to turn “roaming data” on or off.

    I would also add that should you opt in, the telco has to provide you with a running total of your roaming charges e.g. a free app that would show the cell phone user exactly what charges he is incurring.

  7. SC

    Sep 18 2012

    I have seen your article concerning roaming charges on Moneyville.ca. I know that roaming charges are very expensive abroad.

    That is the reason why a Swiss company launched a new Sim Card called XXSIM. You can find all the information on http://www.xxsim.com.

    Some of its features are:

    -Incoming calls are free in 130 countries.

    -Outgoing calls are on average 90% cheaper worldwide.

    -Gprs (internet) is up to 40 times cheaper worldwide.

    -Worldwide call XXSIM to XXSIM for EUR0.19/Min.

    -Prepaid Sim Card, no monthly fees.

    -Free text message to XXSIM from our Webpage.

    XXSIM costs EUR12.00 and we ship it worldwide for free.

  8. MK

    Sep 18 2012

    The article is very nice about the Cell phone roaming data charges. You should suggest Roam Mobility for US travel,
    http://www.roammobility.com/

    Its the cheapest and prepaid. It costs just $3 a day and for data it’s $3.22 a day, with unlimited incoming and
    outgoing calls and texts.

    The cell phone carriers are a ripoff.

    Just try it, with a one-time sim card expense of $19.99. It’s still cheap compared to the cell phone company plans.

  9. JK

    Sep 18 2012

    I, too, had a data roaming nightmare. I’d received conflicting information from service advisors on my international roaming plan prior to a trip to Italy this past summer.

    Then I received a text while on my trip, indicating that I’d used a huge amount of data, resulting in a bill of about $1,100.

    Upon further investigation, it was determined that the service reps did not fully realize what features might result in such high data usage.

    My data roaming was only turned on two or three times to use the Maps feature and “Around Me” app on my iPhone when we got lost in Rome!

    It turned out that the gps-based features use horrific amounts of data…not email or anything else. This was something that nobody had apparently realized.

    The provider offered a reduced bill as a gesture of goodwill that was much appreciated.

  10. SB

    Sep 18 2012

    I am one of the victims. I talked to customer service and they can’t do anything. They asked me to mail the president of Rogers.

    I travelled from Alberta to Spokane, Wash., Aug. 25. I had shut off Roaming, 3G and Cellular data off, as per advice from a Rogers Representative.

    I always try to buy text message and phone minutes and do not use data when travelling to US.

    I got a bill for $520 in U.S. data roaming charges. I don’t know how thihs happened and I’m confident that you will be able to help me out on this one.

  11. JB

    Sep 18 2012

    One very simple piece of advice is to have an unlocked phone and get a local sim card.

    I was just in the UK and it cost me a total of £15 for 3 weeks of service, including high speed data and talk. Didn’t come close to using it all up.

  12. Ray

    Sep 19 2012

    She’s leaving right in the middle of sticking it to the Realtors? What’s happening with opening up MLS finally and getting Canada out of the Dark Ages?

  13. Krishna Sookrit

    Sep 19 2012

    By now you would think everyone would know about roaming charges. We have been talking about this for years.

    Best thing to do is to purchase a local phone in the country you are visiting. For frequent visits to the U.S, you can keep the same phone/account and top it up every 3 or 6 months.

    Works for me and I have never used more than $30-40 on a trip.

  14. F Smith

    Sep 28 2012

    It’s high time that someone in government took on the telcos regarding their outrageous roaming fees. The markup on roaming must be in the thousands!

    These spokespeople for the telcos are so misleading that’s it’s almost laughable! How is the average client supposed to gauge how much a megabyte is when traveling?

    For instance, I recently found myself a bit lost driving through the Buffalo area. “No problem” I said to myself, “I’ll just use the GPS on my Bell smartphone for a few minutes in order to get myself straightened out.”

    It was on for no more than 15 minutes. Guess what? Three weeks later when I get my Bell Mobility bill, I get dinged for $88 in data roaming fees!!!! WTH!!!

    Why in the heaven’s name is it so expensive? No wonder people are pulling their hair out when it comes to these charges. The actual usage bears no resemblance to the charges applied.

    Seriouly–$88 for 15 minutes? Crazy stuff!

  15. Cheryl Price

    Sep 28 2012

    And why won’t Bell unlock my Iphone even if I’m willing to ante up the $75 (or whatever it costs) to get the unlock code? They would do it if I had a Samsung or a BB, why not an Iphone?

  16. Melinda Han

    Sep 28 2012

    Why did Melanie Aitken depart her post at the Competition Bureau? An article in the Globe quotes her as saying that she believed there was nothing left for her to accomplish in her role as chief of the Competition Bureau.

    Really? Has Canada been wiped clean of all anti-competitive practices in such a short time?

    Something smells here. Think about it. Canada finally gets a bureaucrat who is actually willing to get their hands dirty and fight for the consumer, and suddenly with two years left in their mandate, they leave their post saying they have done all they can do.

    Huh? Did someone get to her? Was she expected to be as incompetent as those running the CRTC. but when she proved to be a real fighter for consumer rights, she was asked to quietly step down early?

    Ellen, do you not agree that her early departure reeks of political interference?

  17. Robert Baird

    Feb 15 2013

    If Melanie Aitken was so in favour of making minimum fee real estate brokers available to the consumer, why did she hire a full service broker when she sold her Toronto home?