Canada's telecom carriers should have provisions for unused monthly cellphone data: experts

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Canada’s telecom carriers have instituted new policies to help customers get through COVID-19, but some experts say those aids need to be applied more widely, especially if consumers are not using all their monthly cellphone data.

John Lawford, executive director and general counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), said in an interview that there are far more people using their cellphones on home WiFi networks. One way carriers could help customers who are not using all their data is to group existing cellphone data allowances as part of home internet service.

“So to the extent that companies sell both [wireless and internet services], they should be crediting your home internet connection with an equivalent amount of usage you would have put on your phone,” Lawford said.

However, he said this could be complicated because people have different phone plans in a household, and it would be simpler to eliminate data caps on internet services to eliminate the problem.

Ben Klass, a telecom expert and PhD candidate at Carleton University, said in an interview it would be difficult for carriers to compensate people who are not using up their data, but if they were lenient on customers it would be helpful.

“They still have to make money,” he said. “We’re in a situation right now where the companies need to continue making sure that these networks work more than ever. The idea of handing back a bunch of money [could be argued on]. One way is suspending charging overage fees to people.”

He added that if more customers are relying on home networks it gives more of a reason for carriers to be “lenient about data caps.”

“If people are using [Wi-Fi] more on their mobile, it’s probably because they need it. And if more people are at home using their home internet, that means there must be less congestion on mobile networks,” he said.

Rogers said in an email it waived data caps for internet plans for both home and business internet customers. It said that most of its customers are on unlimited internet data plans already. The national carrier has also waived long-distance fees and roaming fees for wireless customers.

The carrier is also making sure that no Rogers and Fido services are suspended or disconnected for customers facing financial difficulties, and is offering flexible payment options.

Telus said in an email it won’t charge overage fees for customers without unlimited internet data plans. The carrier also offers flexible payment options to those unable to pay on time. It is temporarily suspending all planned deactivations and collection measures because of non-payment. Roaming fees will also be waived, Telus said.

Shaw Communications said in an email it does not have data caps on its internet plans. For its Freedom Mobile customers, Shaw said it does not charge overage fees.

“If any of our customers have questions regarding their Freedom Mobile Service, we are committed to working with them to find the plan and add-ons that best suit their financial and connectivity needs,” a spokesperson said.

Bell, in a March 14 tweet, said it was waiving additional usage fees for residential internet customers until the end of April.

Yahoo Finance Canada reached out to the carrier for additional measures it is taking for customers but the carrier did not respond in time for publishing.

Dwayne Winseck, director of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, agreed with Klass that it would be difficult for carriers to offer compensation for those who have not used up their entire cellphone data.

He too noted that carriers could offer help to customers by rolling over their allotted data to the next month as a form of compensation.

“In many countries, your leftover data is rolled over into the following month. That’s the low-hanging fruit that should be implemented right now,” he said, adding that it wouldn’t necessarily make sense for a customer to change their plan when the pandemic timeline is unknown.

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