MONTREAL – Canada’s largest cellphone providers are reviewing a Quebec Court of Appeal ruling that authorized a class-action lawsuit against them in the province over international roaming fees.
Toronto-based Rogers Communications, which operates Fido, along with Bell and Telus face the prospect of a trial that could result in them having to pay millions of dollars to customers allegedly charged excessive international data roaming fees for using their smartphones in the U.S. and other international destinations.
Rogers and Bell said they’re studying the Wednesday ruling but declined to say if they will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Quebec’s high court overturned a lower-court ruling that rejected an application filed on behalf of Montreal Fido customer Inga Sibiga, who was billed $250.81 in extra charges from a 2012 U.S. vacation.
She used her cellphone about six times to access Google Maps without using a prepaid travel package.
Sibiga used 40.82 megabytes of data at a rate of $6.14 per MB.
The lawsuit claims the charges were “exploitative” and well beyond the cost of providing the service, thereby running afoul of Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act.
“We think it’s a very important judgment for many reasons, but it’s obviously an important victory for consumers,” said lawyer Bruce Johnston of class-action specialists Trudel Johnston and Lesperance.
He said the cost of providing international roaming data was just a few cents per megabyte, yet the major companies charged as much as $30, or about 600 times the cost.
“That, according to us, is clear exploitation of consumers,” he said in an interview.
The ruling comes following a CRTC report Thursday that found Canadians pay some of the highest prices for mobile phones compared to those living in other G7 nations and Australia.
Canadians paid the most for entry-level wireless service of 150 minutes, shelling out an average of $41.08, according to the study that surveyed service providers in six Canadian cities and in other countries.
Canadian services claimed the second- or third-highest price for the five other higher-service options studied, like unlimited talk and text with five gigabytes of data.
Johnston expects the class-action lawsuit will proceed to trial within about two years.
It covers consumers residing in Quebec who were charged more than $5 per MB after Jan. 8, 2010. If ultimately successful, hundreds of thousands of Quebec cellphone users could share a multi-million-dollar award.
“It’s an important case in terms of the precedent it will set but it’s also important on a monetary value basis,” Johnston said.
He adds that since the case was filed, telecoms have dropped their international roaming rates to customers across Canada.
“It’s not simply because of the class action but I’m sure that the class action participated in the process; we’ve seen the rates drop dramatically,” he said.
“So calling an industry to account makes it more likely that they will act in accordance to the law. That will be true across Canada because the rates will be the same.”
Quebec Superior Court justice Michel Yergeau denied the application in 2014, but the three-judge appeal court panel said he erred in four areas and overstepped his role.
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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version did not specify that the roaming fees are alleged to have been excessive.