Trying to calculate megabytes of data used while outside Canada can leave consumers confused and with cellphone bill shock, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre said Monday.
"Consumers understand dollar limits in terms of how much it's going to look like on my bill when I get back from vacation or travel," said Janet Lo, legal counsel for the consumer advocacy group.
The survey also found that about 90 per cent of consumers said they had received a bill that was much higher than expected for international data roaming, which includes emailing, texting, using maps or other applications or surfing the Internet on their devices.
"We're really trying to prevent this scenario where a consumer comes home and gets their bill and it's much higher than they had expected," Lo said from Ottawa.
Major wireless carriers such as Telus (TSX:T), Bell (TSX:BCE) and Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) said they already advise their customers via text message of international roaming rates on their cellphones and send notifications when consumers have hit certain megabyte limits for data usage.
"A dollar limit would give consumers that control they really seek," said Lo, adding that's how data roaming is calculated in Europe.
Lo noted that 44 per cent of those surveyed prefer to leave their device turned off when they travel, while 16 per cent left it at home.
The CRTC could include how wireless carriers notify customers of international roaming rates in its new wireless code of conduct, she added.
"We're looking for consistent practices between all wireless carriers."
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is developing a national code of conduct for wireless carriers. The goal is to have consumers better understand their rights and wireless companies know their responsibilities.
The commission is expected to issue a draft code by the end of next month, after which a second round of online consultations will be launched. Public hearings are set to begin in February.
Telus spokeswoman Donna Ramirez said Telus already gives its customers notifications about how much data is being used when they're outside the country.
"We automatically give customers the lowest pay-per-used rates when they're travelling abroad," she said.
Telus's customers are notified when they use 10 megabytes of data and are asked if they want to continue using data, Ramirez said.
Ten megabytes of data would allow a cellphone user to, for example, download to two songs, do some emailing and pull up a couple of web pages.
"We can all be doing much more from an education perspective to be helping customers understand what happens when they're roaming," Ramirez said from Toronto.
Bell spokesman Jason Laszlo said Bell has been sending travelling customers a text message advising of local roaming rates since 2009.
"To ensure customers don't come home to a larger than expected bill, upon reaching 100 MB of usage, data roaming service is suspended and can be restored either at the customer’s request or automatically after 30 days from the start of their data roaming," Laszlo said.
This service has included customers travelling to the United States since the spring, he added.
Rogers said it agrees with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre that international roaming should be affordable.
"We notify customers the moment they enter a roaming zone by sending them a text message which outlines the cost of pay-per use roaming and provides the option to purchase packages," spokeswoman Patricia Trott said.
In 2011, Canadians were paying some of the highest prices in the world for wireless data service while away from their home turf, suggesting there isn't enough competition in this country, said a report by the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation.