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THOMPSON: Canadians are paying too much for cell phone service

July 10, 2017 - 12:06 PM

 


OPINION


Canadians are nice…sometimes maybe too nice. For example, we pay a lot more than people in most other countries for mobile telephone service…and we appear to accept that as normal. Why?

I’m not going to bore you with all the sad details on every mobile plan across Canada…but one word pretty well describes them…exorbitant.

You can, of course, read the current Annual International Telecom Price Comparison - a report underwritten by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission - on how Canada ranks versus the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Japan and Australia.

But, I can save you some time by simply relaying the fact that Canada is either the most expensive or a close second for every plan any consumer might desire.

The CRTC’s tenth annual report is due again later this fall…and we shouldn’t expect much in the way of changes. We will - once again and for the tenth consecutive year - be among the nations with the most expensive cell phone service.

This comparison seems somewhat arbitrary to me - including so-called G7 countries - plus Australia. What’s that all about? It’s like some inebriate decided who we should compare with. Why not all nations that start with C…it would make no more or no less sense?

Whether its low-end cellular telephone service, premium service, broadband internet, bundled services or mobile data…we’re paying more. We pay about three times as much for mobile data as consumers in the U.K., Italy and Australia.

It’s not as if the previous federal government didn’t realize costs far exceeded value received for consumers. They encouraged competition in the wireless market - sort of - nine years ago with the spectrum auction…though that effort sputtered when newbies Mobilicity and Wind Mobile were gobbled up by Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc.

The new federal government of Liberals seems to be trying, as well…turning back BCE Inc.’s attempt to withhold wholesale access to its high-speed network.

Still, there’s no real sign that things are going to change for Canadians in the near term. Ironically, the cost of a landline in Canada is lower than five other nations in the G7 plus Australia grouping.

A look around the globe clearly shows that competition brings mobile phone service prices down for consumers…and provides lower-income people with access to options beyond simple voice plans.

All you have to do is travel…and I mean to some areas that most would agree are remote locations…to see that it can be done. In Kenya, for instance, you can get unlimited internet and a call-anywhere-on-the-continent voice plan for about $70. You don’t even have to buy a new phone…simply unlock your existing phone and insert a new Subscriber Identity Module or SIM card.

The truth is: we need more than the existing three providers - Telus, Bell and Rogers - to drive prices down for consumers and join the rest of the world in low-cost cellular access. Sadly, I don’t see any significant push from Liberals or anyone else toward making that a reality.

The next best solution - and let’s hope it's short-term - is to ask our politicians to create a friendlier environment for mobile virtual network operators….MVNOs. These companies buy at wholesale prices network space from the Big Three…and theoretically pass along some savings to consumers.

Of course, the Big Three have secondary or so-called flanker brands…Bell has Virgin, Telus has Koodo and Rogers has Fido…that don’t tie you up contractually. And, there’s Freedom Mobile from Shaw. Or you can go with regional providers like Videotron or Sasktel, if you’re willing to make the trips to the areas where they sell. So, you can, in fact, beat the high cost of cell service by 10 per cent to 36 per cent if you really work at it.

But, I suggest we all contact our MLAs and ask them what they’re doing to help find a solution to exorbitant cell phone rates…under the theory if you’re not part of the solution…you are very much part of the problem.

I’m a little weary of the staid argument - most often put forth by the Big Three - that cell service has to be more expensive here than anywhere else in the world because of the expensive infrastructure. “Canada,” they claim, “is a geographically dispersed country.”

The truth is most of us live in a long, thin slice of Canada just north of the States. So, let’s take care of those folks before talking about how hard it is to build cell towers 24 hours north of Kelowna.

We can solve the problem of high-cost cell phone services. After all, Canada has solved tougher, thornier issues. Just to prove it, I use my expensive Canadian cell phone to text my American friends about Canada’s universal healthcare. I include a smiley face…it’s worth it…even on my cell plan.

– Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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