British Columbia

Dad talks $22,000 cellphone roaming charge down to $200

The man who successfully fought $22,000 in cellphone roaming charges is back with a guide to help others do the same.

Man published free how-to guide for others who feel mistreated by cellphone service providers

Fighting roaming charges

10 years ago
Duration 2:04
A Burnaby, B.C., dad publishes a free how-to guide on fighting excessive mobile phone charges
Matt Buie's 11-year-old, Mike, mistakenly racked up thousands of dollars in roaming charges by streaming YouTube videos while on vacation with his family. (CBC)

The man who successfully fought $22,000 in cellphone roaming charges is back with a guide to help others do the same.

In a CBC Go Public exclusive earlier this month, Burnaby resident Matt Buie accused Rogers of price gouging after his son racked up $22,000 in data charges while on a family vacation in Mexico.

Buie got a text message from Fido, which is owned by Rogers, saying his phone was being shut down "for security reasons" because of "excessively high" data charges.

The company immediately offered to cut the charge to $2,200.

"They said, 'Yes, we'll pretend that you signed up for an international roaming package, and we have here that your phone downloaded 758 megabytes of data,'" Buie told CBC's As It Happens host Carol Off. "'We could charge you $30 a megabyte, but we'll only charge you $3 a megabyte.'"

"I did not accept that," Buie said.

He kept negotiating because he says the company was using the "shock factor" of the huge initial charge to get him to settle for a bill that was still too high.

"My cost could not have been anywhere near a dollar," Buie said.

'This has taken six weeks of my time. It's not about the money. It's the principle and fair play.'—Matt Buie, a financial planner from Burnaby

Buie, who works as a financial planner, argues Telus would have cut off data access when the bill reached $200, but Fido didn’t alert him until three days of charges had piled up.

Buie told Fido he would be willing to pay the equivalent of the Telus cutoff point, at which point Fido agreed to slash the bill to $500.

Fight to the top

But Buie still refused to pay, taking his complaint to the office of the president at Fido. The company eventually reduced Buie's charge to $200.

Despite the cost in time and stress, Buie considers it a victory.

The Mexico data usage is calculated on Matt Buie's bill for the first two days of his son's video streaming. Feb. 1 data use will appear on the next bill. (CBC)

"This has taken six weeks of my time," Buie said. "It's not about the money. It's the principle and fair play."

During the fight, Buie learned about service provider responsibilities and what conduct is already set out by the CRTC. 

Buie says he cited the outcome of a CRTC hearing last month, in which telecom executives alluded to $200 being a fair cap on unexpected data charges should a cap be in place.

Buie says the industry is largely unregulated.

He wants telecom companies to cap cellphone roaming fees at a manageable amount pending authorization from users for further charges, as providers do in Europe.

Buie said he also found evidence a large number of Canadians have gone through similar fights.

"I Googled 'Canadian roaming charge complaints' and I came up with 1.7 million entries," he said.

Buie has helped publish a toolkit to help other Canadians negotiate excessive and unexpected cellphone charges down to reasonable amounts.

He advises customers to write a letter of complaint to the president of the telecom company, and to send a copy to CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, Minister of Industry Christian Paradis as well as members of the media.

"I think the more light that comes to this — I knew nothing about this before my vacation — I think we will see change," Buie said. 

Buie's step-by-step guide to negotiation with telecom customer service can be found on the website

With files from the CBC's Luke Brocki and Kathy Tomlinson