CRTC: Friend or Foe?

Scumbag CRTC

I don’t doubt that the CRTC is trying to do right by Canadian consumers. But this country’s wireless oligopoly makes for a formidable opponent, with more than a few tricks up its sleeve.

After “making things better” (quotes are deliberate) this past summer with a new Wireless Code, the commission now has in its sights the  $2/month paper bill fee charged by Canada’s Big Three.

Way to aim high.

I might suggest that the CRTC, consumer-focused as it is of late, could make better use of its time addressing the mess that it’s made with the Wireless Code. Though not technically in effect until December 2nd, the big guys have been both quick and deft in protecting their profit margins from what the code seeks to achieve.

As a refresher, here’s what it seeks to achieve:

  • To eliminate three-year contracts
  • To cap roaming charges abroad and data charges at home
  • To mandate SIM-unlocking services directly from carriers

Our incumbent telcos, evil geniuses that they are, have managed to make mandates irrelevant and service more costly in response.

First, the contracts… Three-year terms are now effectively a thing of the past. High-fives all around! One thing, though: in crunching the numbers to reclaim the balance on subsidized handsets over 24 months instead of 36, plans are now more expensive even for those who don’t need a subsidy. Data in particular has seen a big jump — $10 per GB used to be the going rate for overages; now it’s $15. Try as I might I fail to see any connection between this and the cost of a handset.

The roaming and data caps are kind of a joke. They can (and will) be easily circumvented with a text from your carrier:

“You have reached your monthly data threshold. To accept additional charges and continue uninterrupted service please ignore this message…”

And as you can imagine, the fees that Bell, Rogers and Telus will charge you to SIM-unlock your device don’t compare favorably with third-party options.

For me, the biggest slap in the face is the sudden and arbitrary return of system activation fees. If there’s one thing Mobilicity and WIND can take credit for it’s taking these fees off the table, with no more than some healthy competition. Now they’re back.

If the big players aren’t allowed to charge you $2/month for a paper bill don’t think for a second that they won’t find some other way to stick it to you for the same amount, or more. The comments on this reddit thread are brimming with good ideas:

Hello $2 bill dispatch copy convenience fee.
Plus a $1 CRTC-related legal cost recovery fee.
(And so on…)

If CRTC wants to chase down fees, why not go after the one that affects everybody? Activation fees are ludicrous by definition — why should anyone have to pay extra for activating a paid service?

For the record, I’m still 100% on-board with the idea of federally-mandated wholesale mobile service to Ting. Failing that, I dunno… Maybe our government should just tax the living crap out of all carriers, and send that money back our way via a Canada wireless subscriber tax credit.

Any other ideas?