This week, the Federal Communications Commission will begin hearing testimony on proposed new rules to protect consumers from roaming charges.
It’s a step towards preventing wireless carriers from charging higher prices for roaming to their customers, a practice that critics have accused of unfairly favouring big business.
The proposed rules would require companies to provide customers with “reasonable” prices for wireless service when roaming, and give consumers more control over their own wireless prices.
While consumers could opt to pay more for the same service, the rules would force companies to compensate consumers for the extra money they spend roaming.
The rules are being brought in by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTIA), which represents about a dozen wireless carriers in Canada.
It also has the support of several consumer groups, including Canadians for Fair Competition.
While consumers may be able to avoid paying higher roaming charges if they want, the proposed rules are likely to have a negative impact on many consumers.
“I don’t think it will actually make consumers happier, as the consumer is getting less of the benefit,” said Kevin MacLeod, a consumer advocate and communications consultant.
If the rules were adopted, the CWTIA says, it would “open the door for other carriers to offer services for wireless consumers who are unable to pay for them.”
The proposed rule would also force the federal government to “establish an independent consumer protection authority” to enforce the proposed changes, the association said in a press release.
“The proposed rules will make roaming for wireless customers more expensive and result in lower consumer satisfaction and lower consumer investment in wireless networks,” it said.
However, the new rules are not necessarily the end of the story.
They are just the beginning of a long process.
A number of states are now considering similar rules, and other provinces and municipalities are also weighing in on the issue.
Critics of the proposed roaming rules say the rules will actually encourage the industry to charge more for roaming, as they could charge more to cover the cost of providing high-speed internet to customers.
Canada’s telecom industry has been trying to limit roaming charges since the 1980s, with the advent of fibre optic cables and the introduction of wireless networks.
But the new proposal is unlikely to make things any easier for consumers, who currently have the option of switching providers or buying cheaper prepaid plans from a number of companies.
One of the biggest concerns for consumers is that the new roaming rules would allow carriers to charge a fee to customers who have been roaming without a roaming contract.
That could lead to customers paying $2 a month for services they aren’t using, and potentially putting more pressure on small businesses, said Jennifer Jost, a spokesperson for Consumers for Fair and Open Competition, a group that advocates for consumers.
She also said that the rules could increase the cost for consumers by requiring them to use a device with a more expensive price tag, such as a smartphone.
And that could make it harder for consumers to use the wireless network in the future, she said.
“If you’re paying for it, you might want to switch providers,” she said, adding that a “worse” outcome would be if the government “forces people into a situation where they’re either paying $8 or $10 a month and don’t use it.”
Jost noted that Canadians could use their mobile devices to make payments, and argued that Canadians should be able access their mobile phones without having to worry about being charged a bill.
With files from The Canadian Press, CBC News and CTV’s The National.