Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New wireless code a saviour for some

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On June 3, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, introduced a new code directed at wireless providers.

The new code gives consumers new rights and protections in their wireless contracts, with a number of points aimed directly at previous policies that have cost travellers thousands of dollars.

Many have travelled overseas and, after using their devices in various foreign countries, have returned to find they have unknowingly incurred huge data fees.

Now, international data roaming charges will be capped at $100 per month, to help prevent those who travel from facing unexpected exorbitant charges.

A number of readers who have communicated with me did not realize the policy will apply only to new wireless contracts that start on Dec. 2, 2013.

But when the new code does come into effect, it will include a provision that individuals and business will be able to cancel their contracts after two years. As a part of the new policy, the code also states specifically contracts must be more easily understood.

While most contracts of any kind tend to be confusing for the consumer regardless of what they cover, to try and understand current wireless contracts is an impossible task for even the most intelligent user.

It does not appear existing contracts will be protected under the new policies, so those of us who have just started a contract or are mid-contract need to still exercise due caution when we travel.

Service providers may honour the intent of the code, but I have not seen any assurances of this.

There are other ways consumers can be stung when travelling, and certainly phone and Skype are only two of them.

You can still be hit with some hefty fees if you are not careful.

Through some recent communications with John Assiter, product manager of the international SIM card company Telestial, I gained valuable tips that deserve to be passed on to readers.

For obvious reasons, he recommends the purchase of a SIM card when travelling out of country in order to avoid paying international telephone rates. By using a global number that is inexpensive to call from and free to call to in most places, significant savings can be had.

Notwithstanding his vested interest, Assiter provides other sage advice. To use a SIM card from his company or any of the other providers, you will need a phone that can be unlocked.

I discovered this when I wanted to use my previous Blackberry product. Through an agreement with the provider, I could not easily unlock the phone to use a SIM card that would have enabled me to save money.

For those who find they own such a phone, there are now inexpensive international phones on the market that can be purchased before you leave Canada, or in the country you are visiting.

Assiter also warns consumers about using Skype overseas.

He says "Skype can be a great communication tool, but be careful how you use it overseas. When connected to Skype, make sure you're using free Wi-Fi from a hotel or coffee shop.

He also warns against uploading vacation pictures on smartphones while roaming. He notes this can be extremely expensive, because many photos are more than five to six MBs each.

Again, wait untilt you are at a free Wi-Fi location to do so.

Through my more recent travels, I have been pleasantly surprised at how many restaurants and retail outlets offer free Wi-Fi service.

Very often it is advertised with a sign in their entrance window, but even without that usually the store or restaurant will be happy to provide the password as soon as Irequest it when you realize they have the Wi-Fi service.

Here's one more caution.

Theft of cellphones is becoming an emerging crime industry. Up until now, we were concerned about pickpockets and scanners that could steal valuable credit card information. It appears we now have to add cellphone theft to the list.

This problem is not peculiar to travel. Cellphones have become a valuable commodity for thieves around the globe, who have a ready market for buyers.

They can fetch up to $1,000 dollars, and organized crime seems to have quickly jumped into the business with a network of street thieves intent on finding ways to separate you from your phone.

Snatch-and-grab thieves are good at what they do and a cellphone sitting on the table of a restaurant presents a particularly inviting target

On a related note, even as we have watched the debate surrounding the use of cellphones, iPads and laptops on aircraft, there has been some movement.

While nothing appears to be changing insofar as wider on-board cellphone use, it would appear United States authorities are seriously considering allowing the use of laptops and tablets.

The Federal Aviation Authority in the U.S. is ready to rule travellers can keep laptops, iPods and electronic readers turned on during taxi, takeoff and landing. Current research suggests they present no challenge to airline navigations systems.

For those wanting wider freedoms in cellphone use, the FAA is preparing more intense research on this subject as well.

Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 E2

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