Why Canadian Cellphone Users are Still Getting a Raw Deal

Since Justin Trudeau became president of Canada in 2015, his liberal victory has arguably represented a change for the better in all areas, including science and the environment, although expectations for the telecommunications industry are still not as optimistic for the consumer.

The previous conservative government was at the very least, undaunted by the prospect of taking on Big Telecom, even going so far as to accuse them of being dishonest back in 2013. They also offered advantages to smaller up-and-coming telecoms providers by auctioning spectrum licenses and reserving some, not allowing the big three, Telus, Rogers and Bell to buy them all up. They also introduced the Wireless Code, which all cellphone providers must follow to stay in business.

Thanks to these actions, cellphone customers are much better off than they were years ago, with more flexible cellphone plans and fewer mystery charges sneaked onto monthly bills, but Canadian customers are still paying the most in the world for their cellphones.

Smaller Cellphone providers vs the big three.

One of the main issues facing Justin Trudeau is ensuring that smaller cellphone providers are not pushed out of the market by their larger and more established competitors buying up all the available spectrums, thus ensuring more evenly distributed coverage for all Canadians.

The clear majority of the telecoms market is still dominated by the three main competitors, Bell, Telus, and Rogers.  As one can imagine this leads to a certain amount of price gouging, with all three offering the same, relatively expensive packages. Newer cellphone companies like Wind and Moblicity hope to offset this monopoly by offering their own more affordable services. One of the main selling points of these smaller providers is that they don’t charge a System Access Fee, which normally costs about $6 – $8 per month.  To the end consumer, this fee felt a lot like they were being charged for the ‘privilege’ of being customers. However, this doesn’t mean the end of blatant cash grabs for big 3 customers – they just stopped calling it the System Access Fee.

Instead, new users were expected to pay between $15 and $20 to activate a new phone bought outside of the company. So if a customer wants to use their current handset, opting out of buying a phone from the provider they have to pay this fee.

Changing plans can be an extra hurdle

Another problem that plagues Canadian cellphone customers is the unnecessary hassle encountered when simply changing to another plan with the same provider.  For example, if you wish to upgrade, you may lose benefits such as free roaming or that premium Spotify subscription you once had on your existing plan. This is obviously not the desired outcome as you end up worse off.   The fact that you can obtain third-party roaming apps for cheaper than you can get them from your actual cellphone company makes this even more apparent.

All these things may push the consumer to seek out cheaper options with a smaller provider, as they should.

Smartphones are sales drivers for other technologies.

Consumers may also feel the pressure to upgrade their devices and even buy extra peripheral devices that can be controlled with their smartphone. Naturally a smartphone reduces your need for other gadgets and gizmos. Many have multiple functionalities built in, with apps for almost everything, so you may be forgiven for thinking that sales of other electronics may fall as a result. Instead, companies are seeing sales figures for items such as cameras either remaining steady or rising. Nikon sold more cameras in one month compared to sales figures from 2003, when camera phones were new, and their quality left a lot to be desired. How could this happen? It could be that having a camera on their smartphone made consumers more interested in photography in general, and this has prompted the sale of cameras that can take larger lenses for more detailed images or better action shots. Naturally a phone camera will never be quite as good as a real DLSR camera, so in this way the iPhone and other smartphones could be a sort of ‘gateway device’ for consumers who wish to pursue their interest in photography.

As mobile gaming goes from strength to strength in terms of capacity, graphics and complexity, people may turn from being casual gamers playing on their phone to more serious hobbyists who might purchase a gaming console for their home. This may cause a problem for makers of handheld type gaming devices when all the classics are easily obtainable on a smartphone, but spells big business for companies like Sony and Microsoft.

While many people use their inbuilt maps on their smartphone for navigation while driving, sales of GPS devices remains steady. This could be due to battery issues when driving long distances, but also the general reliability of dedicated GPS systems. Many systems are also integrated directly into the car’s onboard computer and are physically built right into the dash, making it much easier to use than a smartphone.

Smartphones may also act as a ‘gateway device’ for e-readers, despite these and tablets offering much the same service in the form of apps. E-readers are optimised for reading books, magazines and papers on and offer the user long battery life, an especially calibrated surface that doesn’t feel like staring at a bright screen, and generally offers a more dedicated reading experience.

Smartphones can be a great all-rounder, which eliminate older, single-function devices such as the calculator, but consumers will always demand the very best tool for their specific wants and needs. It is unlikely that the iPhone or any similar smartphone will replace these specialized tools any time soon.

So considering all this, and with Canadians still being big consumers of technologies, the government needs to take harsher steps towards helping Canadians be at par with the rest of the civilized world in terms of phone billing.  But will the Liberals do good this time?