A woman checks her smartphone while waiting to cross 5th Avenue in New York. Using your cellphone while abroad can get expensive but will be a little cheaper for some Bell customers starting Tuesday. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Bell said today it is cutting in half the rates on its most popular mobile data, voice and text roaming plans for Canadian customers travelling to the U.S.

"During the summer, Canadians told the federal government that they support wireless competition and strongly believe the wireless rules should be the same for all carriers, Canadian or international. But Canadians also told us that they want to use their smartphones a lot when they travel, and they want the price to come down," said Bell Mobility president Wade Oosterman in a statement.

"We heard you, and today Bell is cutting in half the cost of mobile roaming where Canadians travel the most: the U.S.A."

The company said it is starting with the most popular travel destination, but will also work with its global telecom partners to eventually reduce international roaming costs for other countries.

The reduced rates take effect Tuesday and include the following plans:

  • 30-day travel bundle: $25 (previously $50) — includes 50 MB of data, 50 anytime minutes in the U.S. or to Canada, unlimited incoming text messages, 200 sent text messages.
  • 30-day travel add-ons: $20 each (formerly $40) — 100 MB of data, or 100 minutes of voice calling, or unlimited incoming and sent texts.

Move spurred by Verizon debate

Bell framed the rate cuts in the context of the recent protests over potential changes to Canada's wireless market that set off a broader debate over wireless rates in Canada and calls for greater competition.

Speculation that U.S. telecom giant Verizon was considering a bid in the upcoming radio spectrum auction or might potentially buy out one of the smaller players such as Wind or Mobilicity raised the ire of the big three telecom companies, including Bell.

The companies argued that the government's rules for the auction unfairly favour new entrants like Verizon and disadvantage Canadian incumbents by limiting how much spectrum they can bid on.

Unions representing telecoms workers were also against the Verizon entry, saying that allowing foreign companies a greater share of the Canadian market would cost jobs and not reduce rates for consumers.

'Our domestic pricing is comparable with developed countries worldwide, and generally lower than major U.S. carriers.' - Wade Oosterman, Bell Mobility

Earlier this month, Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam quashed rumours of the company's potential entry into Canada, saying the speculation had been "way overblown" and that Verizon was not considering such a move.

In its press release Monday, Bell reinforced its claim that Canadian wireless rates are on par with those in other parts of the world, but tried to appease those who feel the loss of Verizon is, ultimately, a loss for consumers and will result simply in a continuation of the status quo.

"Our domestic pricing is comparable with developed countries worldwide, and generally lower than major U.S. carriers," Oosterman said in his statement.

"But it was also very clear that Canadians are unhappy with how much it costs to use their phones a lot when they travel abroad. We're grateful that Canadians listened to us this summer, and we also listened to you: You said cut the cost of roaming and we're making a big start."