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OECD Survey: Canadians Pay Highest Roaming Rates Worldwide

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Executives at Canada’s biggest mobile providers blame high data roaming rates on lack of competition in the marketplace. (Photo: Florin Ungureanu)
Executives at Canada’s biggest mobile providers blame high data roaming rates on lack of competition in the marketplace. (Photo: Florin Ungureanu)

WORLD

  • Canada has the highest international roaming rates out of 34 OECD countries, with prices at $24 for one megabyte of data
  • US ($21) ranks 2nd, with Mexico ($20) in 3rd place
  • Lack of competition has driven prices up; leaders need to adjust offers and find new solutions

Based on a recent survey of 34 countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that Canadians pay the highest fees for international data roaming in the world.

Examining average data roaming prices from two major wireless operators in each of the countries polled, the report found that Canadians traveling outside of North America paid over CDN$24 to use one megabyte of data – or almost three times the OECD average of $9.27.

Who else ranked near the top of the list? Neighboring US was a close second with over $21 for one megabyte of data, with Mexico not far behind at $20. Greece had the lowest average roaming fees at less than $5 per megabyte, which could be thanks to the nation’s competitive mobile market and consumer saving benefits from low wholesale prices.

For Canadians, high roaming prices have real consequences: a woman recently told the Toronto Star that she did not turn off the roaming function on her iPhone when on holiday in the Dominican Republic only to return home to a whooping $750 bill. Her phone automatically connected to the Internet and began charging her, even though she did not send email or download data.

Mobile Leaders Speak Out

Overall, OECD analysts found roaming charges to be high the world over. Executives at Canada’s biggest mobile providers agree that data roaming rates across the country are higher than average and blame it on the lack of competition in the marketplace.

Telus plans to reduce data roaming charges significantly and could change the structure of its roaming plans so that subscribers do not have to specifically order roaming packages, helping to simplify the process. Telus already alerts customers when they start accruing international roaming fees, starting at the $10 mark.

Rogers spokesperson Carly Suppa told CBC News that Rogers believes it is “critical to make roaming affordable, and we’re continually looking for ways to deliver this to our customers.” With 9 million customers, Rogers had the biggest market share in 2010, followed by Bell and its affiliates at over 7 million, according to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

Cellphone Freedom Act

Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa Professor of Law, says Europeans pay lower rates because traveling throughout Europe is more common and phones are sold unlocked.

NDP Member of Parliament Bruce Hyer wants Canadian mobile providers to do just that. Hyer is promoting a bill called the Cellphone Freedom Act, which would make it mandatory for mobile providers to unlock a customer’s phone when they sell a full-price phone, or when the contract is complete. Users could then insert a local SIM card when they travel abroad, and avoid data roaming fees altogether.

Key Players – Wireless Telecom Services in Canada

  • Bell Canada, Rogers Wireless, Telus, Wind Mobile, Public Mobile, Mobilicity, Koodo, and Fido

By Stephanie Lagopoulos for
Based in Toronto, Stephanie Lagopoulos is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle, travel and technology. She also works in the advertising industry.

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