Data Plans, Data Usage and Overage Charges

What is a data plan?

When you sign a contract with a mobile services provider, you may choose a plan that includes data. The plan specifies the data limits - how much data you can use during a billing period before you begin paying data overage fees. Providers typically offer a variety of plans with different data limits and prices. In general, you are using data whenever you are connected to the Internet using your provider’s wireless cellular network.

What are data overage fees?

When you use more than the data included in your plan, you will be charged a fee for the extra data you use. The amount charged will vary from service provider to service provider and will typically be identified on your bill as a data overage charge. These can add up quickly and can be expensive so it’s a good idea to monitor your data usage. Service providers must notify you before you reach $50 in data overage fees during a billing cycle.

What is a family or shared plan?

With a family or shared plan, you may share the data included in the plan between multiple users or devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Families may find shared data plans appealing because they can share the data of a single plan among the different devices used by family members, including those family members that use lots of data and those that use little. It also means there is usually only one bill for all the devices that share the plan. You probably won’t be aware every time another family member on the plan is using data, so avoid surprises—monitor data usage! Just like with an individual data plan, if the total data used in a billing cycle is more than your data limit, data overage fees will be charged for the extra data you use.

What are international travelling data plans and data roaming fees?

The data that you use when you connect to your provider’s wireless cellular network is covered by your regular monthly plan, but when you travel internationally, data rates change: most plans do not include data while you are traveling abroad – what is typically called roaming – so all data charges while you are roaming are added on top of your normal monthly bill.

To use data while travelling, you can either buy a “roaming” package from your mobile service provider – which may allow you to use the data in your regular monthly plan while travelling or additional buckets of data – or buy a plan from a provider in the country you are visiting. However, providers typically offer a variety of roaming plans with different data limits and prices. When you use data while roaming, you may start to be charged data roaming fees. These can add up quickly and can be expensive so it’s a good idea to monitor your data usage. Service providers must obtain express consent from you before you exceed $100 in data roaming fees during a billing cycle.

How to monitor data usage

Most providers will send you a text message or email when you are approaching your data limit, and all providers must obtain express consent from you before you exceed $50 in data overage charges in a billing cycle. But you can also sign in to your account online using your mobile device or personal computer and learn a lot about your account and your plan, such as:

  • The device or devices associated with your plan
  • Your data limit, how much data you’ve used, and how much you have left
  • The activities you perform that consume data
  • Details about the activities performed over time using the devices associated with the plan

Many wireless providers also include:

  • A data usage calculator, so that you can figure out how much data you expect to use in a billing period
  • A customizable real-time alert management system
  • Options for changing your data plan to reflect changes in your expected data usage

By monitoring your data usage regularly, you can understand how your usage affects your bill over time and make any adjustments needed to eliminate or minimize overage charges. It also pays to familiarize yourself with the settings available on your smartphone or other smart device for restricting or turning off data use.

Know your rights—The CRTC Wireless Code and data overage charges

The CRTC’s Wireless Code helps protect you from significant overage charges. The Code applies to all contracts for retail mobile wireless voice and data services providers and the businesses or individuals that pay for their services. Among other things, the Code helps ensure that consumers like you are aware of your rights and obligations when you sign a wireless services contract, so that you can avoid bill shock.

According to the simplified Wireless Code:

  • Regarding overage charges, the Code specifies that, when a customer’s data overage charges reach $50 in a single monthly billing cycle, the provider must suspend data overage charges once they reach $50, unless the account holder consents to paying additional charges.
  • Regarding roaming charges, the Code specifies that, when a customer’s data roaming charges reach $100 in a single monthly billing cycle, the provider must suspend data roaming charges once they reach $100, unless the account holder consents to paying additional charges.

To learn more about the Code and how to notify the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) if you believe your service provider is not adhering to the Code, see Your Consumer Rights for Mobile Phones.

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