Posts Tagged ‘bell’
We Canadians pay the highest mobile rates in the world, thanks to the entrenched Bell-Rogers-Telus oligopoly that for years has been gouging customers with impunity. The CRTC, the regulatory body that has generally been in the pocket of the wireless companies, has been taking some baby steps towards actually protecting consumers in recent years, thanks to a huge backlash and an acknowledgement that the current situation is hurting business and innovation. But these baby steps haven’t done much to stem the tide.
- Canadians will be able to cancel their plans after two years with no penalty, even if they signed a deal for longer.
This is all well and nice, considering that the three-year plan cycle was stifling innovation. But considering that there really aren’t any better options out there, cancelling and going to a competitor is illusionary freedom at best.
- Caps on extra data and roaming charges to $50 and $100 respectively within a given billing cycle.
This is perhaps the biggest win for consumers; stories of $22,000 phone bills or other ridiculous overage charges have abounded in the media lately, embarrassing providers and frustrating consumers. Even smaller amounts are ridiculous: A friend recently returned from a trip to the UK to discover a $1,287 phone bill, all for committing the cardinal sin of having forgotten to purchase a data plan, and having accessed Google Maps a few times while abroad. Such charges far exceed any reasonable costs that the providers have, and amount to a punitive tax on the unsuspecting for no reason other than they’ve been allowed to get away with it for far too long.
- Canadians will be able to unlock their devices after 90 days, or immediately if they didn’t purchase a phone on contract.
Anyone who wanted an unlocked device was already doing so on the grey market for a few dollars. It’s useful for people moving out of the country or for those of us who travel a lot; Canada remains one of the only countries in the world where you can’t get off a plane and pick up a local SIM card for a matter of a few dollars to use during your stay. (I do this all the time with my unlocked phone; it’d saved me thousands in roaming charges in countries from France to Israel to Vietnam.) But for most Canadians, with no competition to speak of in the market, unlocking your device will only allow you to switch to an equally bad provider, which is really no choice at all. All this means in practice is that providers will raise the prices of the phones in the first place, arguing that they can no longer subsidize them to as great a degree.
- Contracts must be in plain language, with wording explained clearly and with the option to opt out of all changes.
This ought to have been the price of entry and a given for anyone doing business. The fact that it needed to be said was sad. A step in the right direction, to be sure. But the Code doesn’t set out any restrictions on what the wireless providers can and cannot put in the contracts, as long as it’s spelled out in plain language.
What’s missing from this Code? Quite a lot.
- There’s no mention of the fundamental unfairness of charging for incoming calls and text messages — a particularly egregious issue considering how much spam and how often my phone rings with unsolicited telemarketing calls. When I complained recently to Rogers about the dozens of robo-calls I’ve been receiving lately (“Congratulations! You’ve won a trip!”), I was basically told that I had no choice but to pay for the calls. There’s also the fact that we take the double-charging (paying for both outgoing and incoming minutes) as a given here in Canada, when most people from other countries would find that shocking.
- There’s next to nothing being done to address the lack of competition in the marketplace. Bell, Telus and Rogers collectively own the vast majority of the wireless spectrum. Efforts in recent years to open up parts of the spectrum to bidding from smaller players are failing, since the small players are being sold one by one to the big ones. Virgin Mobile is owned by Bell; Fido is long owned by Rogers; Telus is in talks to buy Mobilicity; Public and Wind are both up for sale. Only Videotron here in Quebec is making a go of it, since as a larger cable company it can afford to compete, but its service and offerings aren’t exactly advantageous compared to the Big Three. And anyway, Rogers and Videotron have a network sharing agreement that will effectively prevent them from actually competing. With so few choices, we all lose, regardless of market regulation or consumer codes. Since, after all, the Big Three can charge whatever they want, as long as they spell it out in plain English.
Ultimately, this Wireless Code is Too Little, Too Late. It will get us to where we needed to be as a country five years ago, but it does very little to address the future. And we will continue to fall behind the rest of the world in terms of mobile adoption rates and technical innovation.
But, it’s a step in the right direction.
The CRTC has actually momentarily remembered that its job isn’t to rubber-stamp requests from the big telecoms: It has squashed Bell’s plan to buy Astral and thus control a massive share of the telecom market:
“BCE failed to persuade us the deal would benefit Canadians,” said chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, who took over the post earlier this year and has quickly put a populist stamp on the regulator. “It would have placed significant market power in the hands of one of the country’s largest media companies. We could not have ensured a robust Canadian broadcasting system without imposing extensive and intrusive safeguards, which would have been to the detriment of the entire industry.”
Anglos are breathing a sign of relief because this will save TSN 690, Montreal’s English-language sports radio station (and official home of the Habs, when the NHL isn’t on lockout). Rival media conglomerate Quebecor is breathing a sigh of relief, because its dominance in the francophone market won’t be challenged by a Bell/Astral giant.
But there’s a bigger issue here, and one that should be of interest to all Canadians who are concerned about the extreme amount of media consolidation that we’ve witnessed in our country over the past couple of decades. When two or three companies are allowed to control both the media and the messaging via television, radio, newspapers, digital and mobile channels, we all suffer. Just about every Canadian has a nightmare story about one of the telecom giants (and Bell figures at the top of most of those nightmare story lists). Canadians already pay the highest cell phone rates in the world, and that’s only getting worse due to the lack of competition in the marketplace. The telecoms are all working hard to produce exclusive content, and are licensing it to their rivals for high costs. The limited choice in television service offerings is leading many Canadians to simply pull the plug rather than put up with poor service and content offerings for high prices.
Canadians are fed up. And plenty of them spoke up at the CRTC hearings. There were 9,700 interventions filed, and while many of them were from rival media conglomerates such as Rogers, plenty of others were from the general public. They were standing up to say that having one company in charge of nearly half of what we see, hear, read and watch isn’t in anyone’s best interest.
I’ve been really hard on the CRTC in the past for being in the pockets of the telecom companies and shirking its mandate to protect the consumer. Thanks to this decision, I have to issue this blog’s first-ever kudos to the CRTC. It’s a step in the right direction. Keep it up.
You can tell it’s an election year when the government actually bothers to do something useful. Harper, seeing the writing on the wall after massive petitions and public outcry, has issued an ultimatum to the CRTC about its recent usage-based internet billing ruling: back down, or we’ll overrule you:
Last week, the CRTC ruled that usage-based billing, the model used by large Internet providers such as Bell Canada and Rogers Communications to charge customers extra for exceeding monthly download limits, will apply to smaller providers, too. Until now, those smaller providers could offer unlimited Internet packages; the ruling means they no longer can.
There have been hints already from Industry Minister Tony Clement that the federal government may quash the controversial ruling, and the prime minister has asked for a review of it. But the government’s blunt ultimatum to the CRTC suggests any review would be pro forma.
This was a terrible decision by the CRTC – yet another in a long line of them that have backed Big Telecom’s demands over the rights of the consumer and the marketplace. Usage-based billing would have stifled innovation and choked off advancement, it’s true. But let’s not forget that, thanks to the CRTC, Canadians pay the most in the world for cell phone plans, pay for incoming text messages (despite another Harper campaign promise… anyone remember that?), and enjoy tons of lovely censorship of TV and radio. All because the CRTC is supposed to protect the interests of all Canadians, but only protects the interests of three: Bell, Telus and Rogers.
As for the government, let’s not forget that this is one decision, taken under overwhelming public pressure, in the face of hundreds of other decisions that have gone against consumer interests. The real solution isn’t to review this one decision; the real solution is to review the CRTC’s overall mandate and existence.
Imagine the surprise of a woman who was charged $47,000 by Bell for the use of mobile internet, after being instructed to set up her phone that way by Bell’s customer service department:
“The guy on the line told me: Oh, it’s no problem. Your cellphone has unlimited Internet, so you can just connect your phone to your computer.”
After Rooney asked three times if there would be an extra charge, Alexandra stayed on the phone with a customer service representative for about an hour to figure out how to connect the phone to the computer to get Internet service.
A week later, all of Rooney’s phones were disconnected. She borrowed a phone and called Bell customer service.
“When I spoke to the agent, he told me I had a very high balance,” she said. “He told me $47,000, and then told me I had to agree to pay a minimum payment of $300 for my phones to be reconnected.”
Since that day, Rooney’s phone bills have not been less than five figures. Her most recent bill was for $12,000, and Bell has cut off her phone service six times.
It took Rooney over four months to get the issue resolved:
On Tuesday, Rooney got a call from someone named Gina, who said she worked at the office of the president. She apologized on behalf of Bell, and said it was unacceptable for it to take this long to settle her problem. The woman told her all charges had been reversed, and her current balance was $181.16.
“When I heard, I was so happy that I cried,” Rooney said. “She told me, she understood why I went to the newspapers about this because it’s been since July. I gave them a lot of time to handle this and they didn’t. She was really nice.”
From now on, the woman told Rooney she no longer has to contact customer service and if she has any problems, she has a special number to call.
Francoeur said the settlement of Rooney’s problem had nothing to do with the fact that a reporter contacted the company on her behalf, and that the problem would have been solved this week anyway.
Yep, that was my experience back when I was a Bell customer, too. Months of running around in circles on the phone with various customer service agents accomplished nothing. Only going to the top – in my case, to a VP – finally managed to solve anything. Which begs the question of what, exactly, the point of having a customer service department is in the first place. I mean, could nobody below the level of the president see that there was clearly something wrong with a $47,000 phone bill?
Rooney says she’ll probably remain a Bell customer, which sounds crazy but is likely because, in her rural area, she has no choice. As for me, I fully divested myself a few years ago and will never look back.
Coming on the heels of the news-that-will-shock-nobody that Canadians pay the highest cell phone bills in the world, someone’s taking notice… and it ain’t the CRTC:
Unlimited wireless data plans are almost unknown in Canada, and that’s a strategy telecom carriers elsewhere are starting to emulate as they look for ways to cope with booming demand and capacity limits.
BCE’s Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Telus Corp – Canada’s “Big Three” telecoms – command profit margins that are the envy of the industry. They have an historical advantage over their peers because Canadians accept that they have to pay for as much capacity as they use.
Or, maybe it’s because the CRTC is more interested in protecting those profit margins that are the “envy of the industry” than in protecting consumers, in our price-fixed, oligopolistic market.
And it’s got consequences. Less affordability translates to lower smartphone penetration, which means companies have less incentive to stay ahead of the curve on wireless development, which means Canada will – as usual – continue to lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to innovation. That’s bad news for everyone… unless, of course, you happen to be an executive at Bell, Rogers or Telus.
We’ve lagged behind the rest of the world long enough. We’re supposed to “accept” things that are unheard-of in the rest of the world, like punative three-year contracts with ridiculous cancellation fees, “system access fees” of $8.95 a month, being charged for incoming voice minutes and even text messages, and ridiculously high data plan pricing. Us Canadians don’t “accept” that we have to pay as much for data as we do; we’re forced into it because we have no choice. That is, no choice other than opting out of owning a smartphone entirely, which is the choice I’ve made.
Instead of admiring our market, the world should be mocking it. And instead of protecting the anachronistic, anti-competitive marketplace, the government should scrap the CRTC and throw the doors open to real competition. Until then, consumers and businesses will be the big losers.
Responding to massive public pressure, including an online petition that garnered over 57,000 signatures, Rogers has announced a $30 data plan for the iPhone.
It’s not the unlimited flat plan that people had hoped for, but at 6 gigabytes, it’s pretty close. And so far, it’s only available to people who purchase their iPhone before August 31st. But it’s a whole lot better than the previously-announced plans, which start at $60 and range to $115 per month – gouge-worthy levels.
The problem is, Rogers holds all the cards. Once people rush out to take advantage of this pricing and sign three-year contracts, they’re locked in. And Rogers’ regular rates for data plans are outrageously high.
Meanwhile, Bell and Telus are coming under fire for their decisions to charge for incoming text messages… by the government:
Industry Minister Jim Prentice publicly demanded an explanation from two of the country’s telecommunications giants yesterday about their “ill-thought-out” decision to start charging cellphone customers for incoming text messages.
Here’s a thought: Rather than summoning them in front of a government committee to try to justify their pricing, as these telecom giants are accustomed to doing from their monopoly days, why not open up the market to real competition instead of our current oligopoly-style imitation? That would take care of their cash-grab collusion pricing in a hurry.
Here’s yet another reason:
For 25 months now, cell-phone users in the United States have been able to change service providers and take their numbers with them. This spares you the laborious process of notifying everyone who has your number that you have a new one now.
[ . . . ]
This week the CRTC has announced, oracularly, that Bell Mobility Inc., Rogers Wireless, and Telus Corp. will have to offer number portability by March 2007 – more than three years after U.S. consumers received this service. This will apply for Quebec, Ontario, B.C. and Alberta; the requirement doesn’t kick in for smaller provinces until six months later.
It’s all part, says the CRTC, of balancing the interests of consumers with the interests of the carriers.
Isn’t it strange how consumers so often come out on the short end of the CRTC’s balancing acts?
All of the cell phone companies in Canada offer overpriced products and horrible customer service. Since Rogers bought out Fido I’ve heard nothing but horror stories from subscribers of both. Telus isn’t any better. Bell Mobility — my phone company — is perhaps the worst offender of all. But because our phones are already locked to our companies, and getting a decent deal on a new phone means locking into another contract, switching is already enough of a hassle. Having the phone number locked into the company is all that much worse.
Local numbers are already portable for landlines; I kept my phone number when I switched my home phone service from Bell to Videotron earlier this year. There’s no doubt the consumer wins when competition is fostered. If the cell phone companies actually had to fight for our loyalty, they might not treat us quite so callously.
The CRTC does little other than “protect the interests” of companies that feed us overpriced crap and prohibit us from getting the stuff we truly want. Any party that promises to immediately scrap it can have my vote in the upcoming election.
The offer’s on the table. Any takers?
Working in a customer service field, I’ve developed somewhat of an intolerance to being treated poorly when I myself am the customer. But my recent dealings with several notorious large companies have led me to wonder whether my basic expectations for service are somehow unreasonable.
First, my dealings with Dell gave me nothing but sleepless nights and heartburn. My computer is still giving me hardware errors. It’s been doing it for over 6 months now. But since the customer service line has been utterly useless at helping me solve the errors, I’ve pretty much opted to live with them. It’s just easier that way.
Then, of course, there’s Air Canada, the national carrier Canadians love to hate. It’s the only monopoly I can think of that still can’t figure out how to stave off bankruptcy and make a profit. Horror stories are the norm rather than the exception. It’s as though the airline feels that “customer service” means not going bankrupt, as opposed to – er – actual service.
Today, Air Canada ranked up another strike, when I found out that my flights to and from Israel next month had changed times rather significantly, and nobody had let me know. When I called, I was told “oh, sorry, I see you were on a call list; someone would have called you eventually”. Er, that’s great. When exactly were they going to tell me that I was leaving 12 hours earlier? When I showed up at the gate?
My woes with Bell Mobility have to about top the list, though. My cell phone has been broken for over 3 months, and was sent in 3 times for repair without success. I got tossed back and forth between different service lines without any kind of problem resolution. The store would blame the manufacturer, the manufacturer would blame the store, the customer service line would blame everyone else… and nobody was willing to help.
I finally complained to the executive office, where I was finally offered a replacement cell phone. Today, I found out that on top of everything else, my replacement phone was sent out two weeks ago… to someone in Kitchener, Ontario. *Sigh*.
Companies are constantly looking for new ideas and innovations to be more profitable. They spend millions on customer research, millions more on advertising the latest products and features… and yet none of them seem to realize that all most of us want is helpful service and products that work.
Yes, it really is that simple.
Maybe we get such lousy service because we allow these companies to walk all over us. There’s only 4 cellphone companies in Canada, and only one major national airline. They get away with treating their customers like dirt, because none of their competitors are any better. So they know we’re a captive audience.
But enough is enough. I think it’s high time we demanded better.
Update 06/07: Problems solved with Bell Mobility, who sent me a brand-new fancy camera phone to replace my broken one. And hey, it *only* took 3 months!
Also, problems solved with Air Canada Aeroplan, where I found a – believe it or not – nice and helpful customer service supervisor who resolved everything for me, was friendly, and went out of her way to help. I rant and complain a lot but I have to give credit where credit is due.
Dell’s still messed up. But two out of three ain’t bad.