Canada signs commitment to end data roaming charges, but it’s not binding

Roaming charges for travellers in much of North and South America may soon be a thing of the past. Getty Images

A future without expensive cellular data roaming charges across North and South America is on the horizon, but Canadian officials are warning that it may still be a few years away.

At a recent meeting of the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL) in Buenos Aires, Canada signed on to a new agreement that aims to see roaming charges eliminated across the Americas by 2022.

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Delegates from 19 countries in North, South and Central America and the Caribbean all declared that they were on board, but the commitment is not binding, meaning that for the moment it has no practical consequences. Free roaming within three years is therefore unlikely.

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“Although non-binding, the Buenos Aires Declaration is perfectly aligned with our government’s vision,” said Karl Sasseville, spokesperson for the office of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.

“Minister Bains has been clear: Canadians deserve fair, affordable and quality telecommunications services. Canadians pay some of the highest rates among G7 countries. This has to change and our government will soon be announcing concrete measures to drive competition and affordability.‎”

It’s unclear what those concrete measures might be.

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In a statement issued after the commitment was signed in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s modernization minister Andres Ibarra said partner nations “have the duty to generate the conditions for our citizens to communicate without any barriers, and to encourage the investments so that our operators can offer an accessible and high-quality service.”

Rules on roaming

Roaming charges are normally applied when a user leaves the area covered by a data provider and connects to the network of another provider. While the federal government considers these charges “legitimate,” they can reach hundreds or even thousands of dollars, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) warns consumers on its website.

“Most providers offer roaming packages or add-ons that you can buy before you go,” the CRTC notes.

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Providers like Bell, Telus and Rogers are required to notify consumers that they are roaming, and must limit data roaming charges to $100 per billing cycle unless the customer explicitly agrees to more charges.

A legal agreement to eliminate roaming charges between countries would not be unprecedented. Last June, a law came into force across the European Union that abolished roaming charges for people using mobile devices within the EU.

Citizens are now able to call, text and browse the Internet in all EU nations for the same price they pay in their home country.

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