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This Dad Was Charged a $22,000 Roaming Fee and Is Fighting Back

04/24/2013 12:44 EDT | Updated 06/24/2013 05:12 EDT
Radio-Canada.ca

Matt Buie, a financial planner and father living in Burnaby, B.C., was recently stunned by a $22,000 roaming charge on his cell phone account incurred by his 11-year-old while on vacation. After Buie spoke out in the media and talked to other cell phone users he quickly realized that he was not alone in feeling price-gouged, and is now taking action.

On March 22, in collaboration with OpenMedia.ca, he released a Toolkit For Mistreated Cell Phone Customers.

Most recently Buie has written to the CRTC, Industry Canada, and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to call for bold steps forward to fix Canada's broken cell phone market. Copies of this correspondence can be found here:


Letter from Matt Buie to Prime Minister Harper, Industry Minister Paradis, and CRTC Chair Jean Pierre Blais

April 7, 2013

I am writing today to encourage you to create effective legislation to correct some of the poor consumer practices carried out by the Telecom Industry. I believe my family's experience illustrates this corporate misbehaviour.

In January, 2013, my wife and I were travelling with our young children (seven and 11) to Mexico for a family holiday. I brought my iPhone to video our vacation, listen to music, use an English/Spanish translator app and get on the hotel Wi-Fi for free. As it turns out and unbeknownst to me, my 11-year-old son turned off the Airplane Mode and watched between eight-12 hours of YouTube videos over three days.

My son never once received a warning that he was incurring roaming charges. He was not informed the cost is approximately $1.00 / minute. My son is a good boy and is proud that he has never been sent to the school principal's office.

Our last night in Mexico, we received the only message from Rogers/Fido: "Your roaming charges are excessively high. For security reasons, please contact Fido Customer Service." Fido told me we had a charge of $22,740.00, but not to worry they would drop it to $2,274.00. That is not a small amount of money for my family.

After 10 frustrating hours of phone calls and letters to Fido including their "Office of the President," they dropped the unauthorized roaming charge from $2,274.00 to $874.00.

After the media exposed this situation they finally lowered my bill to $500. Then $200.

Should Canadians have to endure over 10 hours of aggravation and stress with cell phone providers and expose their abusive practices in the media before escaping service price-gouging? This corporate misbehaviour has affected thousands of Canadians over many years. If you Google "Canadian Roaming Charge Complaints" you will find 1.1-million results. Clearly my family's experience is not unique.

When telecom executives recently went before the CRTC they actually said cell phone customers would not want a cap on roaming fees. I believe that the telecom companies are exploiting their customers and should be reined in before more Canadians are hurt

Why did it take Rogers/Fido three days to inform me that I have roaming charge of $22,740.00? Why would they not have clear and understandable costs attached to the usage?

Why does this Canadian industry not have a roaming charge cap as they do in Europe?

Their actions indicate they care nothing for their customers and everything about price-gouging Canadians as much as they can. With control of up to 94 per cent of the market, there's not much stopping them from doing so. Canadians want easy access and affordable options that are independent of the big three cell phone carriers however current government regulations benefiting incumbents are stifling that choice.

It would be far easier for me and my family to have paid the Rogers/Fido offer of $2,274.00 then to continue the fight on to Fido's Ombudsman to get to the $200 Roaming Cap charge. This is not about money; this is about fighting for fair consumer treatment.

I would like to know why the government does not enforce the cell phone rules on the books. Rogers has announced that they plan to defy Industry Canada rules and takeover wireless spectrum assets that the government specifically set aside for new affordable cell phone options for Canadians.

Cell phone companies in Canada have the highest average revenue per user in the world. As Professor Michael Geist points out, "Canada is the most carrier-friendly market in the world as the carriers extract higher revenues from their users than any other country." According to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Bell, Rogers, Telus, made an estimated $4 billion on data roaming in 2010.

Considering how important cell phone service already is in this country it is curious that the federal Government and CRTC are challenged to enforce existing cell phone rules.

Over 30,000 people have called on you to do so already at a petition at www.DemandChoice.ca. How many more of us will it take before millions of Canadian cell phone customers can expect fair consumer practices?

I implore you to correct this type of Corporate Misbehaviour by effectively regulating the Telecom industry and introduce a Roaming Charge Cap as well as increased contract and service transparency. I hope the upcoming CRTC Wireless Code will give Canadians a fair and transparent choice with their wireless usage.

Thank you very for your active participation and consideration in this matter.

Sincerely;

Matthew Buie B.Sc., CFP

$22,000 to $200, Negotiated Roaming Charge Dad

[Contact information removed]


The CRTC's reply

April 9, 2013

Dear Mr. Buie:

This is in response to your correspondence to the CRTC of April 7, 2013 regarding Fido billing you $22,740 roaming charges when you son turned of the Airplane Mode and watched YouTube videos while in Mexico. I understand that Fido's Ombudsman eventually reduced this to a $200 Roaming Cap charge.

Many cell phone users have expressed frustration about the confusing legalistic language of their contracts, which makes it hard to figure out what rights and options they actually have. In light of this, the CRTC decided to establish a mandatory wireless code. The CRTC launched a public proceeding that included a preliminary online consultation with Canadians followed by the unveiling of a draft code that reflected the proposals submitted. A second online consultation took place where Canadians were invited to share their views on the draft code and to continue the discussion by posting comments throughout the public hearing which was held from February 11 to 15, 2013.

The proceedings have now closed. The full record of the proceeding, including almost 3,000 comments received from Canadians, will be reviewed by the Commission.

We invite you to read the draft wireless code and stay tuned to our web site as the CRTC announces the final result of the public proceeding in due course.

Once the code is in place, service providers will need to clarify the contractual terms they are offering their customers, who will then be in a better position to make informed choices.

I trust this information will assist you.

Regards,

Michelle Edge

CRTC Client Services | Services à la clientèle

[Contact information removed]


The PMO's reply

April 8, 2013

Dear Mr. Buie:

Thank you for writing to the Prime Minister.

Please be assured that your comments have been noted and that they will receive due consideration from the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry, who has already received a copy of your correspondence.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to write.

M. Bourque

Executive Correspondence Officer for the Prime Minister's Office

[Contact information removed]


Matt Buie's response to the PMO

April 11, 2013

Dear Mr. Harper and M. Bourque

Thank you for your reply to my letter. I have to say, clarifying contractual terms will not be enough. Is it possible to put in place the full set of recommendations that Canadians helped OpenMedia.ca put together

here: http://openmedia.ca/upgradecanada/recommendations?

More specifically, OpenMedia.ca/CIPPIC engaged fully in the CRTC process on behalf of Canadians and I expect you will be able to put their policy plan into place unless you can demonstrate that this will cause harm to Canadians. At this point we need more than tinkering with contracts, we need bold action to empower cell phone users and enable easier access to independent options. Would you agree?

I also note that your response did not acknowledge that there is an uncompetitive market with 94 per cent dominated by just three companies. I would like the CRTC to acknowledge that it would be helpful for Canadians that the Telecom market be more competitive to allow consumers more choice. It would make me feel a little better knowing that you understand the problem.

Please also acknowledge that as Professor Michael Geist points out, "Canada is the most carrier-friendly market in the world as the carriers extract higher revenues from their users than any other country." This is important for the CRTC to have in mind when making its decisions and I and other Canadians would like assurance that this is the case.

Thank you very much for your thoughtful consideration in this matter.

Sincerely; Matt Buie A.K.A. $22,000.00 Roaming Charge Dad

[Contact information removed]

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