The Saga of TelecomZombie

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I followed the saga of forums member TelecomZombie as best I could over this past summer, and I’m happy to report that his story has a happy ending — just like the poor Canada Goose he uses as his avatar here.

Some quick background for non-Canadian readers… If you didn’t already know, rate plans for mobile service in this country generally suck. But in some parts of the country they suck considerably less than in others. Case in point, the lucky residents of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Thanks to tbaytel, a small but feisty service provider there, locals get rates that we in other parts of the country can only dream of.

How do our Big Three carriers respond to this threat? Well, Bell Mobility actually comes pretty close to matching tbaytel’s rates, but only in Thunder Bay. Ditto for Virgin Mobile.

So if there was a way for us, the poor unfortunate souls who don’t reside on the western shores of Lake Superior to get 6 GB of data for $60/month instead of, say… double that, would we be interested? I sure would.

There exists among these forums of way to “game” either Bell or Virgin into giving you service at Thunder Bay rates, even if you don’t live there. I won’t spell it out for you — “online account” and “offshore call centre” will be my only hints.

TelecomZombie has a strong connection to Thunder Bay via a blood relative who lives there. He took advantage of Virgin’s predatory pricing in the region and suffered because of it. With his help, I’ve reconstructed this timeline of his plight:

February, 2013

  • TZ activates service on Virgin Mobile Canada, porting in a coveted 416 number.
  • The plan is listed as “Platinum 50 6GB”; there is no specific mention of”Thunder Bay” anywhere.
  • Details of  the plan: Unlimited Canada-wide calling, unlimited international SMS, 6 GB of data — all for $50 CAD/month.

May, 2013

  • The address on TZ’s account is “updated” — part of the scheme hinted at in the beginning of this post, but still in accordance with Virgin’s Terms of Service.
  • Shortly thereafter TZ discovers that this line is, in fact, on a 3-year contract, making it ineligible for an additional 10% BYOD credit.
  • At the end of the month TZ travels to Thunder Bay to activate another line on tbaytel; before leaving he receives a paper copy of his Virgin contract.

June, 2013

  • TZ’s Virgin line is suspended, despite being paid in full for the month.
  • Numerous calls get the line reactivated until it’s suddenly and inexplicably transferred to accounts receivable.

July, 2013

  • Lots of emails back and forth between TZ  and Virgin Mobile — TZ seeking clarification on specific sections of Virgin’s ToS, and Virgin citing other, seemingly unrelated documentation.

August, 2013

  • To keep his 416 number TZ is forced to reactivate on a basic plan. There is now an early termination fee on his account for the plan he used to have.
  • An email from a Virgin Mobile Executive points to a bizarre disconnect between Virgin and parent company Bell. According to Virgin TZ can port out his 416 number without penalty, but Bell’s collection agency might still be in touch re: that same penalty (?!!)
  • The Virgin line is once again cancelled.
  • TZ contacts the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) to open an investigation.

September, 2013

  • After contacting CCTS TZ is, in turn, contacted by Virgin. Arrangements are made to reactivate his line for 4 hours, to facilitate porting out his 416 number to another carrier.
  • After all this, the port-out is  completed in less than one hour!

Does TelecomZombie live full-time in Thunder Bay? No. Did he scam Virgin into giving him a cheap plan in order to save money? According to him, no. His argument is one of legitimacy. Bell/Virgin are competitive only in markets where they are forced to actually compete; if they can afford to offer service at these rates in Thunder Bay, how much extra cash are they pocketing from the rest of us? And by the way, this isn’t just happening in Thunder Bay; Bell and Telus have similarly exclusive plans to combat other regional carriers like SaskTel, MTS and Vidéotron.

It all begs the question: did TelecomZombie in fact scam Virgin Mobile, or is it Virgin and Bell who are scamming all of us?

4 thoughts on “The Saga of TelecomZombie”

  1. Every time I read about canadian telcos I’m astonished about the insane prices you’re forced to live with
    I pay about $27.50 CAD for my 5GB of mobile data (although, without minutes, but adding a telephony flatrate would set me back a total of $50 CAD) with a pre paid SIM – so switching providers isn’t a hassle in case I come across a better offer

      1. LTWhat?
        That’s almost unavailable, the network providers are a wee bit cautious with 4G after 3G proved a major failure in the start (with one carrier going bankrupt from the launch, and two almost going bankrupt)

        At least I do get HSPA+ with 25Mbit (4 times faster than my DSL…) in most parts of the city

      2. Oh, Sorry.
        1 (wannabe) provider went bankrupt, 1 (wannabe) provider was unable to build a 3G network, and 3 providers almost went bankrupt and were bought up by Vodafone, KPN and Telefonica in the following years. The only provider leaving the fray almost (except for a plumeting share value) unscathed was T-Mobile

        The race for 3G was fought rather viciously, each provider paying more than €8 billion in an auction just to receive the licence to operate 3G equipment on a certain frequency bands.
        The two frequency bands that were left unused have been auctioned off in 2010 with 3 of the established providers, none willing to pay more than €2 billion for the whole package…

        At the same time LTE licences were auctioned as well, with a very mediocre result as well.

        I kinda like that part of german telecommunication history. It’s so surreal, how at first a dozen (wannabe) providers fought a vicious bidding battle over an unproven technology, with no one expecting the demand the would come 10 years later. And now that the demand for high speed mobile internet is here, the same 4 providers are so carefull, they barely bid above the reserve and even today refuse to roll out 4G widely

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