As you surely know if you stop around here with any degree of regularity, I could spend hours rattling off everything that’s wrong with the state of media and communications in Canada. And even though it’s one of those things I’ve gotten unfortunately good at, in doing so I could still probably miss an issue or five. So it’s nice when something like this comes along to fill in the gaps, I must say. Ten Reasons Canada’s Wireless Market Is Woefully Uncompetitive
4. Still Gouging, Part Two: High Roaming Costs
A 2011 OECD study captured national headlines after it found that Canadian carriers had the most expensive data roaming charges in the world. The study looked at the cost of using 1 MB in a single session for a traveler assuming they travel to all OECD countries. The result left Canadians paying the most at an average of $24.61. By comparison, Greek consumers paid $4.17 and Iceland customers paid $4.42. The OECD average was $9.48. The report included several other baskets of roaming data with Canada typically ranking among the most expensive (with the exception of 20 MB packages).
In the two years since that study, Canadian carriers have introduced various measures to address roaming costs, but the persistent stories of roaming sticker shock remain. For example, last week the CBC reported on a B.C. family that ran up $22,000 in charges for 12 hours of YouTube streaming while in Mexico. While critics of the story argued that Rogers never actually billed the full amount and noted that cheaper roaming packages were available, left unsaid was any explanation for how charging $30 for one MB as a pay-per-use charge is anything other than gouging. Indeed, other countries have taken action against high roaming fees with the European Union placing price caps on data roaming and opening the door to greater competition on roaming rates next year by separating domestic service from roaming service. The OECD has also recommended that countries take action, including the possibility of wholesale or retail price regulation.
The CRTC has thankfully decided to institute some new rules that they say will put an end to some of the gouging and increase competition in the marketplace, but personally I’m not holding out a lot of hope. Don’t get me wrong, I like some of its ideas. Shorter contracts? Data roaming caps? Quicker access to an unlocked phone? Yes please on all counts. But if you don’t think that somehow the consumer is going to end up paying more for at least some of this new happiness, you simply haven’t been paying attention. We’re dealing with companies like Bell and Rogers, folks who never met a rule they couldn’t twist or a fee they couldn’t increase. Whether it’s through higher costs to actually get a new phone in our hands or a hike in a charge elsewhere to offset something they’re no longer allowed to ding you for, they’re going to be getting their money out of us one way or another. Hell, they’re already going to court to challenge things they said weren’t a big problem during the hearings in an effort to keep three year contracts around for as long as they can. So while I’m happy that the CRTC and to an extent even the government are finally paying attention and seem to want to do something to improve things, before things get better they’re going to get worse, I have a feeling.