Canadians are avoiding Bell, Telus and Rogers by getting U.S. phone plans
Ask a Canadian about their smart phone plan and you’re typically going to hear an earful about how they’re paying too much, especially in comparison to the rest of the developed world.
The Post Millennial spoke to several Canadians and expats living in Canada who found loopholes to get phone plans outside of Canada–either from their dual citizenships or trusting friends or family members living in America signing them up under their names.
One Canadian we spoke to was visiting family in Florida, when he heard an ad on the radio for T-Mobile plans that were way cheaper than his plan in Canada. He spoke with his cousin and was able to get him to sign him up for a phone plan of US$30 ($39.43), under his cousin’s name, that includes unlimited North-American-wide talk and text and unlimited data. All he has to do is send an e-transfer each month to pay for his significantly lower bill.
An expat from Europe living in Canada who spoke to The Post Millennial has a similar plan to the aforementioned one; they were able to bypass Canadian providers because their father got them on his plan in the U.S. where he works.
The big-three Canadian phone companies–Bell, Telus and Rogers–have been enjoying their de facto oligopoly of the Canadian market. Bell, Telus and Rogers all offer $65 a month plans that includes unlimited data, however, unlike U.S. plans, these plans cap fast-speed data at 10GB and do not offer unlimited North American-wide talk and text. In order to get 50GB of maximum speed data and unlimited Canada calling with Bell, for example, costs $115 a month, which still doesn’t offer as good of features as the far cheaper T-Mobile plan (other American providers offer similar rates) that’s nearly one-third the cost.
There’s another loophole to get around these outlandish monthly fees and get on with an American carrier that’s also being used by some Canadians fed up with their bills. One can simply buy an American sim card online and a pre-paid voucher, then call a carrier in the United States and set up a phone plan that has unlimited roaming in Canada.
Another Canadian, this one with American citizenship, The Post Millennial spoke to has a family plan with U.S.-based Cricket for US$100 (CAN$131.42), that includes four lines that all get North American-wide unlimited data, as well as unlimited talk and text. That works out to CAN32.85 a month at the current exchange rate.
The Post Millennial contacted the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains’ office to enquire about what they were doing to break up the big three carriers or at least hold them accountable for their price gouging tactics.
“Our Government has taken a number of steps to support affordability, competition, consumer interests, and innovation in telecommunications. And we’ve seen encouraging steps in the right direction–prices are up to 32% lower in regions with more competition, and there are now low-cost data plans. But there is more to be done, which is why during the recent election campaign we committed to reducing cell phone bills by 25%,” said the minister’s spokesperson Keenan Dani.
The Post Millennial also contacted Shadow Minister for Industry and Economic Development Michelle Rempel Garner.
“In Canada for the same price you’re paying for 5GB of data an American gets 12GB of data. This is where the Liberal’s argument that they’re going to reduce phone plans by 25% kind of falls short. They have been very light on details on how they are going to do that. Canada doesn’t need a state intervention, what are they going to do? Buy a cell phone company the way they bought the pipeline? There are other new and innovative ways to license spectrum that are being developed all around the world.”
“It’s about time that we take a look at a made in Canada approach instead of just hoping that continuing on the path of long-term spectrum licences will magically build both wireless and broadband access into rural communities,” continued Garner. “We need to acknowledge that so far it isn’t working and come up with an approach that will. This is going to be one of the thrusts of our agenda. We will support a free market in this space and incorporate innovative system design.”
Garner went on to express the concerns she and her political opponents share in fighting to lower the cost of plans for Canadians.
“This is one of the most highly and heavily lobbied industries in the country and there is an inordinate amount of pressure put on entire caucuses of all political stripes. We have an opportunity while in a minority parliament to build some consensus on this. I also know that this is going to be an issue that is heavily lobbied.”
There are dozens of registered lobbyists listed on the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada’s website for the big-three Canadian telecom companies that have lobbied the federal government in the past 12 months.
The Post Millennial reached out to Bell, Rogers and Telus comment for this story, but none of them got back to us.
Bell Let’s Talk is partnering up with the Northwestel and government of the Northwest Territories to announce a $500,000 collaboration to support the Strongest Families Institute. Strongest Families is an award-winning charity that provides mental health services to youth and adults throughout the N.W.T. according to a press release.
The Institute helps families to overcome anxiety and behavioural challenges through the use of various evidence-based programs. Operating out of nine provinces in total, coaches provide support any time of the day or night, available in both French and English. Strongest Families also partners with Indigenous advisors to help better connect with people’s needs. The Institute is also committed to respecting the privacy of those they support.
“Our government is committed to making decisions to improve the lives of NWT residents. By partnering with Bell Let’s Talk, Northwestel and the Strongest Families Institute, we are able to provide individuals, families, caregivers and youth with mental wellness and behavioural challenge supports when and where they need them from their home community. There is no waitlist for this innovative, flexible and evidence-based service that is available by phone and can be scheduled around each person’s needs.” said Diane Thom, Minister of Health and Social Services.
One of Strongest Families’ approach is to have weekly 45-minute calls with their clients over a 12 week period, or more if necessary. The clients are given handbooks on different ways that they may be able to deal with their particular mental health issue. There are also videos to accompany the handbook that demonstrate how such skills might be implemented.
“Strongest Families Institute is proud to partner with the Government of the Northwest Territories (NWT), Bell Let’s Talk and Northwestel, to increase access to timely mental health services for children, youth, adults and families. We are honoured to work with these partners to improve access to care. The announcement of this investment allows us to provide our skill-based programs that are proven to overcome mental health issues to NWT residents. Equipping people with life skills will lead to a healthier future. Through today’s announcement of matched funding, together we will improve the well-being of those in need of assistance. Strongest Families Institute applauds Bell Let’s Talk, the Government of the Northwest Territories and Northwestel on their funding commitment to improved mental health wellness for all.” said Dr. Patricia Lingley-Pottie, President and CEO of Strongest Families Institute.
According to Lingley-Pottie about 90 percent of clients report that their mental health issue was eventually resolved or at least improved significantly by the time they had finished the program.
“Bell Let’s Talk is pleased to build on our existing partnership with the Strongest Families Institute to bring new mental health resources to families in the Northwest Territories. Bell and Northwestel share the Government of the Northwest Territories’ commitment to expanding access to mental health support in ways that will make a real difference in people’s lives,” said Mary Deacon, Chair of Bell Let’s Talk.
“As a longstanding partner of Bell Let’s Talk and a passionate supporter of mental health in the North, Northwestel is proud to be involved in today’s announcement about how we will make additional resources available to Northwest Territories families. Mental health affects all of us, and I want to thank Bell Let’s Talk, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and the Strongest Families Institute for the work they are doing to make mental health a priority in our communities,” said Curtis Shaw, President of Northwestel
Bell will donate 5 cents to Canadian mental health programs for each text sent at no extra cost to the consumer. One of the main goals is to remove the stigma of discussing issues of mental health publicly. Bell Let’s Talk will be on January 29th.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is attempting to provide Canadians with a call blocking system. As of today, telecommunications service providers will have to implement the system in order to protect Canadians from illegitimate callers.
According to the CRTC, caller ID numbers with 16 or more digits and some other unusual numbers will now be blocked by the service provider before making it to the recipient. An example is a number like 000-000-0000.
Some providers have their own call filtering service that is already more advanced. These companies will not have to implement the new service.
In a recent news release, chairperson and CEO of the CRTC, Ian Scott noted, “Canadians need to have the right tools to manage nuisance calls. With the implementation of a call blocking system, calls that are malformed will be stopped within the network.”
He added, “At the same time, we are working with the industry on other tools to better protect Canadians from nuisance calls, including a process to alert them when the caller ID has been spoofed.”
Though the service is meant to protect consumers from unsolicited calls it will not be very effective in stopping scam calls that come from legitimate numbers.
Bell and Rogers are among the providers that will begin implementing the services.
The president of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, Robert Ghiz told CBC News, “There are always scammers trying to find new ways to infiltrate and take advantage of consumers out there.”
He also noted, “There’s always scammers trying to find new ways to infiltrate and take advantage of consumers out there. There’s always going to be new mechanisms that we’re going to have to put in place to deal with these things.”
Ghiz said that one way to combat illegitimate calls is to ask if there is a number you can call back at to reach the person again. You can also end the call and try calling the same number back.
Senior intelligence analyst at the Canadian anti-fraud centre told CBC, “It will have an impact on some of the fraud operations out there,” he added, “but how much remains to be seen.”
The Commision for Complaints for Telecom-Television Service (CCTS) has had to deal with a lot more consumer complaints this year. The number grew by about 5,000 in just the last year alone, according to the Huffington Post.
Complaints have skyrocketed by 35 percent the consumer disputes show a pattern of being steadily on the rise. The CCTS annual report revealed that the agency received 19,287 complaints since July 31. It’s been a bad year compared to the 14,272 from the previous year. A number which was even doubled the amount of complaints from the year before that.
“Record numbers of complaints, rapid industry change, and our own desire for continuous improvement have motivated us to focus on our dispute resolution process,” Howard Maker, the commissioner of the CCTS admitted in a recent statement.
91 percent of complaints were successfully resolved according to the commision, which is funded by the industry and mandated by the CRTC.
Which tele-company had the most complaints you ask? Bell came in first place, accounting for 30 percent of all complaints. Rogers got the silver medal with 9 percent of the complaints and last but not least was Telus coming in with 8 per cent.
“It’s concerning that the numbers are going up,” said Howard Maker, head of the CCTS.
Wireless services were the main source of the complaints according to the CCTS. Internet problems followed as well as issues in the complaints were billing and contact disputes.
Among the complaints specifics were customers being charged but not provided service, billed after service cancellation, and promised discounts and promotions not honoured.
Customers on a contract complained about being provided the wrong internet package and issues with misguided contract terms and prices.
The agency said that there were 158 confirmed breaches of the wireless code. A number that is up by a staggering 42 percent from last year. In 2013, the code was implemented in an effort to give clarity to consumers with regards to contracts and bill management.
The majority of code breaches belonged to Bell (29.1 percent), while Telus and Rogers accounted for an even 19.6 percent. Freedom Mobile was responsible for 15.8 percent. Fido, Virgin, Videotron and Chatr had fewer but also recorded breaches.
Although all these complaints seem alarming the agency did make a point of recognizing that there was still 182 service providers that had zero complaints and 107 more that had three or less.
Competition Bureau says open up Big-3 cell phone carriers to regional players, win-win for consumer, infrastructure
Canada’s Competition Bureau wants telecom giants Rogers, Bell and Telus to open up their network bandwidth to regional players “who intend to invest and further expand their own networks”, under what’s known as Mobile Virtual Network Operator policy.
According to Commissioner of Competition Matthew Boswell’s wireless recommendation to the CRTC, the changes would “allow regional competitors to expand into new markets.”
The Competition Bureau also hints at savings of 35-40 percent experienced in similar “regions with wireless disruptors… who operate their own wireless networks, like Sasktel, Videotron and Freedom Mobile.”
Operations like Koodo and Virgin mobile are not specifically MVNO as defined by CRTC, but offer a way to describe current MVNO players and how they differ from their antecedants; Koodo is a Telus subsidiary while it and Virgin rent space on big-three networks and have storefronts to sell the latest phones and service plans.
Next generation “wifi-first” MVNOs, such as Data On Tap’s Dotmobile are application driven, can operate on internet or cell bandwidths, and according to the company’s CRTC filing announcement in September, intends to provide service “for people with moderate, changing or temporary needs.”
Dotmobile is even offering free memberships in the lead up to when Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s public hearings to review the wireless telecom industry commences in February 2020.
Of MVNOs currently on CRTC’s books, Competition Bureau said the number “is very few in Canada…includ(ing) 7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless, PetroMobile and PC Mobile.”
How Boswell’s MVNO policy would benefit consumers, or how it would actually materialize remains to be seen. Videotron has been building out its wireless network in Quebec in partnership with Rogers, a nearly $300 million cost-sharing deal inked in 2013.
In the prairies, Sasktel continues to expand its wireless coverage that Rogers currently piggybacks on. Outside of Saskatchewan, Sasktel customers are subject to roaming fees on Rogers, Telus or Bell, and according to their individual plans.
Whether Sasktel would consider offering cell plans to customers in Ontario or Quebec, or if CRTC would even allow it are also unknown.
Sasktel director of communications Michelle Englot had “no comment at this time” about the Competition Bureau’s recommendation.
Bureau spokesperson Jean-Philippe Lepage told The Post Millennial, “there is no clear analogy to a current firm in the wireless market since there is a limited wholesale market in Canada.”
The Bureau also said its recommendation to CRTC is that “disrupters” be gauged for temporary MVNO-status based on an ability “to become full-fledged facilities-based providers in cities where they do not currently have a network.”
Ken Whitehurst, president of the Consumers Council of Canada said the Competition Bureau’s plan “could benefit consumers” but the proof would be in the wireless pudding.
“If CRTC can find a successful way to execute it and create more competitive infrastructure, even if it’s not coast-to-coast-to-coast [consumers could see their bills go down],” said Whitehurst, whose organization supports the Competition Bureau’s MVNO recommendation in principle.
“The trick is that it doesn’t help consumers very much to have more and more retail players camped on the incumbent networks who aren’t building any capacity.”
According to a 2019 report prepared for Innovation, Science and Economic Development; Price Comparisons of Wireline, Wireless and Internet Services in Canada and with Foreign Jurisdictions 2018 Edition, Canadians pay significantly more for cell phone service compared to other jurisdictions.
The average cost of premium cell plans in Canada are $70.99/month, compared to $62.48 in United States and $32.40 in United Kingdom.
The year previous, CRTC released its own “Communications Monitoring Report 2018” that found cell plan price differences between urban and rural customers was negligible.
Service availability and quality varies in rural regions however. In July of this year, Huawei Canada announced a deal to provide high-speed wireless service for dozens of northern communities in the Arctic and northern Quebec.
Last Month, VIA announced that it would only accept onboard payment for food and beverages by credit card.
Whitehurst told The Post Millennial this was due to cell service gaps inside the Windsor-Quebec City corridor that could not meet real-time communication demands of the major banks debit transactions.
“Can you imagine there’s no guarantee of (cell) service in this corridor?” Said Whitehurst.
“And given the scope and size of Canada… even on a regional level, a network infrastructure buildout is larger than some entire countries, with the area you’ve got to cover.”