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. EM

    Sep 19 2012

    I live in Fort Erie, Ont. near the US border.

    My Canadian Tire store is in the USA and I’m roaming.

    Walmart is in Canada. The Beach at Crystal is USA, as
    is the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls.

    And try and get those Canadian calls reversed! Good luck with the most user-unfriendly business in Canada.

    The government and CRTC should make all cell towers within 20 miles of a border roaming-free.

  14. AB

    Sep 19 2012

    I just wanted to let you know that with Google Maps for Android (version 6.9), users can download the map of the region they’re planning to visit and use it to help them get around when traveling, even without an Internet connection (or those crazy data charges!).

    In more than 150 countries, you can still use Google Maps for Android to find your way around.

    With Google maps on Android, you can save maps of cities/regions you are visiting, so you can effectively have the offline portability of a paper map with the benefit of a GPS signal to locate yourself on the map.

    For users who want to save on data costs and don’t have unlimited data service, this will come in really handy and save Google Maps users some money!

  15. AM

    Sep 19 2012

    I returned from a trip to Europe earlier than my husband. He called me to say he used the wrong “rocket” stick on his laptop. Could I check to see what the roaming charges were?

    He should have used the European one, of course. Rogers advised the cost was $3,700!

    Without much of an arguement, we waited for the bill. It came on Monday and the charge was around $400 only.

    Thank you, Rogers, for understanding.

  16. 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.

  17. JG

    Sep 21 2012

    My experience is pretty insignificant compared to those you cite, but it was annoying.

    I called a friend who lives in Wales, expecting to get a bill for 5 cents a minute. But it turned out I was calling his mobile and he was vacationing in Spain.

    So the bill was something over a dollar a minute, plus five bucks, which I suppose was a roaming charge.

    What is really annoying about this is that I had no indication that the regular charge would not be applied. If I had known, I wouldn’t have made the call.

    As the Economist pointed out about a year ago, it doesn’t cost the phone companies any more these days to connect a call across the world than across the street.

    They are just trying as hard as they can to maintain the old, lucrative price structure that was appropriate for a now-gone technology.

  18. 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!

  19. 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?

  20. 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?

  21. Ellen Roseman

    Sep 28 2012

    I’m not sure what happened, Melinda, but I did think it was odd that Melanie Aitken didn’t serve her full term.

    Here’s the Star story by Dana Flavelle on June 29, 2012:

    Melanie Aitken, Canada’s tough-talking high profile consumer watchdog, is stepping down from her job two years ahead of schedule.

    As the head of the federal Bureau of Competition, Aitken has used her role to take on some of Canada’s biggest corporations, including Bell, Rogers, Visa, MasterCard, Air Canada and the real estate industry on behalf of consumers.

    She wrestled a record $10-million penalty out of Bell Canada last summer after saying it had charged higher than advertised prices for many services and pushed Canadian realtors to open up the multiple listing service to competitors.

    She has challenged Visa and MasterCard over the fees they charge merchants who accept their cards, and Rogers Communications over claims about its Chatr discount cellphone service.

    Her unexpected departure raises a number of questions both about the agency’s future direction and her own plans for the future.

    The bureau’s enforcement work will continue and current files will not be affected, a spokesperson said in response to an email. Aitken will remain as commissioner, the agency’s top job, until Sept. 21, the bureau noted.

    “It has been a tremendous privilege to work at the bureau for the past seven years, with over half of that time as commissioner, ” Aitken said in a statement.

    “At the outset, I identified clear goals to reinvigorate enforcement at the Bureau and, with the help of the Bureau’s dedicated staff, I believe we have accomplished what we set out to do and positioned the bureau to continue its valuable work well into the future.”

    Aitken told a Toronto newspaper Thursday she was leaving “with mixed emotions” and that it was time “professionally and personally to take on some new challenges. Perhaps this time a little closer to home.”

    Before joining the Ottawa-based bureau, Aitken was a commercial litigation partner at Bennett Jones LLP in Toronto.

    Aitken also told the newspaper she had not been fired. She said she “agonized over the decision” to leave and that it was not made “in a fit of pique.”

    The commissioner is appointed by the federal government through an order-in-council.

    Aitken became commissioner in 2009 just as the federal government was beefing up the law enforcement agency’s powers to address price-fixing and other anti-competitive practices.

    She wasted no time asserting the bureau’s new clout.

    “We must not be intimidated by the fear of losing, ” Aitken has said repeatedly in speeches since being named to the bureau’s top job.

    The bureau has also reviewed dozens of other high-profile mergers and takeovers, including Bell and Rogers’ joint bid for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Canadian Tire Corp.’s acquisition of the Forzani Group, and Maple Group’s bid for stock exchange operator TMX Group.

    “She’s made a huge mark on the competition law and policy landscape.” Julie Soloway, a partner in the competition group at the Toronto law firm of Blakes, told the Star. “She’s developed a lot of new policies and guidelines. She’s brought cases, she’s really pushed international co-operation forward. She’s made her mark without question.

    “I think it’ll be business as usual until she departs, ” Soloway speculated. “It’s too early to know what new directions may transpire with the new commissioner.”

  22. Mike Holman

    Oct 10 2012

    http://www.moneysmartsblog.com/avoiding-cell-phone-data-roaming-charges-while-traveling-in-the-united-states-success/

    Rogers has changed their roaming data plans signicantly from last year. I decided to purchase a 20 MB one month data pack for $30. Not exactly cheap, but a lot better than the roaming charges.

    20 MB isn’t that much data for four days, but this time I had wifi available at the conference as well as in my hotel room. One of the best things you can do to save on data charges is to use wifi, even if you have to pay for it.

    One of my concerns from last year was a lack of data monitoring and no alerts from Rogers. To fix this I bought an app for my iPhone called Data Usage Pro ($1.99), which measures your data use and categorizes usage by cell or wifi. The cellular data usage is the number you have to monitor, since wifi data doesn’t cost you anything.

    By monitoring my data usage and limiting my non-wifi data use, I was able to make the 20 MB last until I got to the airport in Denver on the way home. At that point, I realized that a good friend of mine from Calgary was also in Denver so I gave him a call using Skype. This ended up using a lot of data and my 20 MB data pack ran out.

    Rogers sent alerts telling me this and made it easy to purchase another 10 MB for $10 day pass. The other problem I had is that I got to the airport way too early and ended up doing quite a bit of surfing there, which is why I bought more MBs.

    All was not lost as it was a Sunday afternoon, so I spent a couple of hours drinking beer, watching football and surfing.

    Better confirmation of data package purchase needed

    My only complaint about this whole process was that the 20 MB data package doesn’t get activated until you cross the border. The problem is that you don’t know if your purchase went through or not. Why can’t Rogers acknowledge your purchase with an email, so you don’t have to worry?

    I ended up buying two packages because I thought the first purchase didn’t work and had to phone to get one of them refunded later on.

    Next year will be different

    This will be my last year with a locked iPhone. My plan in early 2013 is to buy a new iPhone once my current contract runs out and unlock the old iPhone and use that for foreign travel. Once the phone is unlocked, I’ll be able to buy a local sim card and pay very low American data rates.

    Summary – Ways to save on roaming charges

    Make sure you understand exactly what data usage is and how to monitor it on your phone.

    Buy a data package from your wireless provider.

    Consider an app to monitor data usage.

    Use wifi as much as possible.

    Avoid Skype or other Voip calls unless you are using wifi.

    Leave phone at home or put it in airplane mode and just use it for calls. Make sure you have a long distance calls package for this.

  23. SS

    Oct 18 2012

    WIND Mobile did not honour a package plan for overseas mobile usage they sold me before I went on vacation.

    To add insult to injury, not only was I erroneously charged for data roaming, but representatives have on numerous occasions confirmed that they erred in overcharging me.

    But despite this, every attempt that I’ve made to get a refund has been unsuccessful.

    It’s been over a month since I initially contacted WIND and each time I speak to a rep, they tell me that they are looking into my case and I should call back in 3–5 business days.

    It’s been almost 40 days since my return and I am still without a refund. I’m on a pay-as-you-go plan and cannot be pre-credited for the following month’s invoice.

    Believe me when I say that I have been transferred to every imaginable WIND office – here in Canada and abroad – and nothing has changed.

    Here’s what you need to know about my trip and the erroneous charges they levied against me:

    I signed up to WIND’s promotion Europe roaming on Aug. 18. With this promotion, I was to receive the following (taken from their own marketing materials):

    Europe Roaming
    $8 a month

    Call to Canada or within Europe for one flat rate with our Preferred European Roaming Rates add-on. No extra fees, no long distance charges and the lowest talk + text + data roaming rates for Europe of any Canadian carrier. Now FREE until Sept. 30th.

    Still roaming after this deal is over? Keep your add-on for as little as $8 per month. ADD this add-on now then go to any WIND store to get the new SIMcard (for free) that will let you take advantage of these great rates.

    Even though I activated this at a WIND store, I also received several confirmations via text message that I was signed up to the Europe Roaming offer.

    Despite all of this, I noticed while I was in Italy that I was constantly running out of credit. Instead of being charged 20 cents/minute to make and receive calls, 15 cents to send text messages and $1 per megabyte of data, I was being charged $1/minute to make a call, $2/minute to receive, 50 cents per text message and $5 per megabyte of data.

    I contacted WIND numerous times, including while in Italy – which of course cost me long distance charges to the tune of $15 Euros – and they insisted nothing was amiss and were completely unhelpful and rude.

    Upon my return to Canada, I called WIND a total of 9 times. When things with WIND seemed to stall, I decided to take your advice and document who I spoke with at WIND.

    I hope you can see my frustration. I want to be credited the amount I was incorrectly charged, in addition to interest lost.

    I would certainly like to see the company provide an explanation why it’s taken so long to process a refund they fully admit to owing me.

    And, of course, I would like an apology from a company which, according to their new ad campaigns, falsely claims to be listening to the unfulfilled needs of the Canadian cellular users.

    I’d be more than happy to offer up my story for any future articles you may write to help people like me who are played around by not only the “Big Three” mobile carriers, but also new entrants that are just as bad as Telus, Bell and Rogers for their customer service.

  24. 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?

Leave a comment