Quebec Court Approves Class-Action Lawsuit vs Big 3 Over Data Roaming

A class-action lawsuit against Rogers, TELUS and Bell has been authorized by the Quebec Court of Appeal, over international data roaming fees, reports CBC News.

Fido roam

Montreal Fido customer Inga Sibiga went on vacation in the U.S. in the fall of 2012, and used her smartphone roughly six times to access Google Maps, without subscribing to a prepaid travel data add-on.

The result? She was charged $250.81 in data roaming charges, for 40.82 megabytes of data, or $6.14 per megabyte.

Several months later, a Montreal law firm with a speciality in class-action lawsuits contacted Sibiga, seeking out clients who had incurred excessive data roaming charges in the province.

Eventually a motion was filed in January 2013 for the class-action, with Fido (and parent Rogers), plus Bell Mobility and TELUS as defendants. The motion was denied in 2014 by Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau, who argued Sibiga could not prove how the data fees were “exploitative,” nor represent others since she was on contract with Fido.

The motion verdict was appealed by Sibiga, and this Wednesday the Court of Appeal reversed the 2014 decision.

Justice Nicholas Kasirer, from the three-member Court of Appeal panel, wrote if Sibiga had opted into a $30 monthly-long data roaming plan, her rate would have been only $1.50 per MB, therefore the difference meant prepaid customers were being charged exploitative rates.

The class action says high data roaming charges were “exploitative”, meaning it had violated Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act.

“We don’t know what’s the exact cost of providing a megabyte of data while you’re outside the country, but we know it’s a very small fraction of what they’re charging,” said Bruce Johnston, Sibiga’s lawyer.

Johnston added “The requirement to have a contract with each [company] is somewhat artificial, when you think that the same trial can settle the issue against every defendant,” when pressed with the argument Sibiga can’t represent other customers from Bell or TELUS.

The class-action will cover any Quebec consumer charged international data roaming at a higher rate of $5 per megabyte, dating after January 8, 2010. The lawsuit is expected to hit trial in roughly two years, and if successful, could result in a multi-million dollar settlement for hundreds of thousands of users.

News of the class-action lawsuit comes on the heels of the CRTC’s report yesterday, which concluded Canada’s cellphone rates rank the highest amongst countries in the G7 and Australia.

Nowadays, roaming with the Big 3 means customers on contract can choose to pay add-ons, which use data and minutes from their existing plans while in the U.S. or overseas, such as Rogers’ Roam Like Home, TELUS’ EasyRoam or Bell’s Roam Better. But prepaid customers have limited options.

The CRTC Wireless Code of Conduct caps roaming charges at $100 in a single monthly billing cycle, unless customers agree to pay additional charges.

We’ve heard of crazy data roaming stories before, such as the 11-year old kid who racked up a $22,000 bill from Fido, after streaming YouTube during his family vacation in Mexico.

Have you ever been charged high data roaming rates while overseas on your prepaid plan?