U.S. roaming rates are often charged for wireless calls made in CanadaJudging from the mobile phone bills Precision Drilling Corp. receives, you’d think the Calgary oil field services firm’s employees travel to the U.S. often and use their handsets south of the border. But they don’t-at least not as often as the bills suggest. It seems Precision is a victim of accidental roaming, a phenomenon whereby U.S. cell towers pick up and carry calls made here in Canada, causing unexpected network roaming charges. It happens when the user is close to the border. "The most recent Bell instance was in Fort Francis, Ontario," says Janice Vickery, Precision’s telecommunications specialist. Precision has employees in various places across Canada, and it uses a number of mobile carriers, including Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility. "I have also seen it happen south of Medicine Hat ." It’s a problem many a telecom and IT manager might come across. After all, a good portion of Canada’s population lives and works near the border; if accidental roaming hasn’t touched your organization, there’s a chance it will. What’s the solution? The answer depends on whom you ask. Some say it’s up to carriers to quash accidental roaming. Others point the finger at users, saying they should learn to leash their handsets. But at least for now, the only effective response is to change cellular providers. Carriers differ in the way they handle the situation. Telus, for instance, is magnanimous about it: if the customer brings the errant roaming cost to Telus’s attention, the service provider will erase the expense, says Mark Langton, the carrier’s spokesman. "We reverse those charges if it’s clear the calls were made in Canada." Tuning NetworksLangton says Telus works with its U.S. roaming partners, like Verizon and Sprint, to tune the networks and minimize accidental roaming. "We’ve also built extended calling areas that take into account the occasional cross-border handoffs ... so they’re not reported on client bills as U.S. roaming," he says. Rogers Wireless Communications Inc. has created similar border zones to help minimize accidental roaming. "It is impossible to prevent this completely, but these zones that we’ve created in conjunction with partner companies border cities enable us to best serve customers," says Heather Armstrong, Rogers’ spokeswoman.Does Rogers erase charges if users point them out? "The company would prefer not to comment on that," Armstrong says. Bell says it doesn’t eat charges as Telus does. If a user accidentally roams, he has to pay the extra charges. Bell suggests users should set their phones to work only on their home networks ("home only") if it’s such a problem. No Easy FixSaskTel says it has the same approach as Bell. "Since you were making calls and using the towers, we will not be adjusting the amounts charged," reads a letter Vickery received from the carrier when she questioned a SaskTel bill. "To avoid U.S. roaming charges, in the future, you can set your cellular phone to home only." But that’s not much help to Precision and its workers. "Legitimately, a lot of these guys do go to the States, so their phones do need to be able to roam," Vickery says. "Home only" isn’t an option, not only because it’s inflexible, but also because it presents a management nightmare. "I have over 3,000 phones in the field," Vickery says. "How do I get hold of all those people and tell them, ‘If you’re ever near the States and you think you might roam...’." A search online for software that would give telecom managers control over users’ phones remotely, to set the network parameters, yields nothing. Meanwhile the CRTC says it doesn’t regulate mobile services, so the federal commission can’t force the carriers to handle accidental roaming charges in a friendly manner. No HelpIndustry Canada doesn’t regulate this space either. "The closest we come is … co-ordinating use of radio frequency between Canada and the United States," says Michael Connolly, senior director of spectrum management operations. The service providers could build more intelligence into their networks-using software that lets the network understand just where the caller is, be it here or in the U.S. But privacy advocates could say such deep scrutiny essentially turns the cellcos into Big Brothers capable of knowing where all of their customers are, all the time. What’s the answer? Vickery may have found it. After dealing with numerous carriers on this issue, she’s making a statement with the almighty dollar. "I might have considered some more business with Bell in the future, but based on this experience, I’m sorry. I don’t want to pay for your problems," she says.