Last October, after moving out west here in Vancouver, I wanted to change my cell-phone number from the 819 area code to the local 604 area code used here in BC (or a 778 as the overlay area code, even though I'd rather not, but that's a detail). There was two reason. First, people calling from Vancouver wouldn't have to pay long distance charges, and I'd stop getting "what country am I calling" from people that forgot that cell-phone exists and that there is life out east. Second, I'd stop getting dinged on roaming[1] charges for incoming calls I receive out of the local area (Ottawa-Hull). I was with Rogers, one of the 3 from the nation-wide-cell-phone cartel.

I called, and everything was fine until the customer service representive at Rogers failed to change the number because the system was rejecting it (after having been given a new number and hung up). I'll skip the part where he failed to call me back, were the number I just got assigned ended up assigned to another person[2] and jump directly to the part were I call back and get told "it failed because you plan is no longer available". WTF? Much like AT&T changed their plans today to provide less for more, the Canadian telcos, RoBelUs do the same. I one make a move, they all follow. Not to do better, to do the same. And believe me, the trend is not to provide more for less. Absolutely not. Bell and Telus started charging for incoming SMS, Rogers, after promising they'd never do it, did it, even for people with a contract. They also do what we call pocket pricing, and practice that should be considered illegal, where they change their offering depending on your geographical location, because sometime there is a local competitor that does better.

In short, they told me that to change my phone number, I had to resign for a contract, to get a seemingly identical offering, more or less a nickel, with a different price structure, or pay a 25% premium to not have the contract. It should be noted that I was near the end of the 3 year contract I was on, so that constitute a unilateral change of the terms, something that ought to be illegal[3] but they have been keeping doing without being worried. Also this just show that the claim that contract are here to protect the subsidy on the locked phone they cell you is an obvious lies. There was no subsidy beyond the 2 weeks left, nor do you get a rebate if you bring your own phone[4]. It was just to lock people in, probably the only way they have to keep customers.

Why would I make business with a company that just wanted to screw their customers each time they can, making doing business with the mob a very pleasant activity? I asked to cancel instead and ended with just an almost useless piece of electronics made by Motorola.

Concerning the price structure here is approximately how it was:

  • System access fee: $6.95
  • 9-1-1 fee: $0.25
  • Voicemail + caller ID + 250 SMS: around $10
  • Voice plan with a low number of minutes out, a higher number of minute incoming, $n (I don't remember the amount)

The new pricing:

  • No system access fee.
  • No 9-1-1 fee.
  • Voicemail + caller ID + more SMS: around $11
  • Voice plan with a low number of minutes out, a higher number of minute incoming, $n + $5 (to compensate on the above fees they now put in the advertised price)
  • Government Regulatory Recovery Fee: around $3

All of these are without the GST and PST (the federal and provincial sale taxes)

I must explain a bit. The system access fee is a very controversial fee that the carriers use to force you pay more than the advertised price, making you wrongfully believe that it is a government fee. They were order to state it was a non-governmental fee after a class action lawsuit was brought in 2006. The 9-1-1 fee is the carrier charging customer for the 911 emergency access that they get charged per line. Again billing it separately allow them to claim a price lower than it is in their advertising. The Government Regulatory Recovery Fee is just a renaming of the two above, with a lower charge, but still, with a name like it clearly show how they treat their customers. It is a bit like adding a surcharge to your billing to compensate the utility bill (water, electricity, heat). In short, it is a gimmick.

There is a lot of work in the area of consumer protection that should be done to address these issues, and the marketplace as it is is just disgusting, with no competition.

The proof that there is no competition: iPad data plans - something very easy to compare - are exactly the same with Roger or Bell (Telus' are worse and it is just their fault because they announced them last).

But what is happening now?

Thursday, June 3rd 2010, WIND Mobile opened in Vancouver. What is it? WIND Mobile is just one of the new new entrants on the cell phone market, probably the only one that is clearly going nationwide, West of Ottawa-Hull. The others are Mobilicity (Toronto only at the moment), Public Mobile (Toronto and Montreal), Videotron (Quebec, not yet open), Shaw (in the West, starting in Alberta, not yet open), and I might forget a few local one. This is the result of a recent airwave band auction in the 1700MHz frequencies held in Canada.

In short, since Thursday there is a beginning of competition in the cell-carrier market, in Vancouver, with the hope to see saner business practices, better prices...

I'll comment more on the offering later.


[1] telcos here call this long-distance, but you call a cat cat, dont you?

[2] I called it to check


[4] actually the tend to frown upon this