The CRTC, determined to reform Canada’s usurious wireless phone cartel, has just issued a strict new “Code of Conduct.”
Effective this December, three-year phone contracts will be available, but unenforceable. If you’re stuck in one of these abusive long-term relationships, you’ll be able to sever it at the two-year mark without penalty.
You know those bill-shocker stories about customers getting hit with thousands of dollars in data overage fees after letting their kids watch YouTube on their iPhones while vacationing in Cuba? Roaming data overage will now be limited to $100 a month, domestic to $50.
You’ll be able to have your subsidized phone unlocked after 90 days, you’ll have a right to a simpler contract and you’ll be able to negotiate changes to that contract.
Yes and no. The CRTC’s new pro-consumer stance is, without question, a good thing. But our big three carriers (Bell, Rogers and Telus) still control 95 per cent of the mobile market. Canadians are not going to start using less mobile anytime soon, regardless of the terms we’re offered. In fact, a wireless industry lobby group just sponsored a major study which (they claim) proves that Canadians are actually willing to pay more than we already do for our smart phones. Industry lobbiests are already using the report to suggest that Canadian consumers are getting a bargain. I say charging $50 for an umbrella during a thunderstorm isn’t a good deal just because people would still buy them at $60.
The point is, if the big three can’t maintain their globally-envied RPUs (revenue per user) under the old rules, they’ll find other ways to keep profits up while colouring within the lines of the new ones.
What will that mean? You can expect monthly fees to climb, and new “bonus” add-ons to be
fabricated marketed. We already see carriers offering 4G speed-upgrades — for a fee. I predict that any new speed capacity will be chopped into separate products at separate price points, in a move akin to offering regular, premium and super-premium gasoline. That’s off the top of my head. If there are other ways to sneak new costs into our bills, wireless companies will find them.
The missing ingredient in Canadian wireless is not a tough regulator, but tough competition, backed by unrestrained foreign investment. However, even if Ottawa steps in to untangle the red tape and make this possible, our international reputation may be too tarnished. After the recent experiences of Mobilicity and Wind, who felt “left to the dogs” by Canada’s government once they were wooed in, the Canadian market may be a no-go zone for international mobile firms.
All around the world, smart phones are getting cheaper, wireless speeds are getting faster and people are doing more and more new things with their mobile devices. It’s happening here too. Just less so.
Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown