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Telus Implementing Usage-Based Billing April 21; Already Raised Broadband Rates in Feb.

Phillip Dampier April 3, 2014 Canada, Internet Overcharging, Telus No Comments

Telus is notifying customers in Prince George, B.C. and surrounding areas it will begin imposing usage-based billing for Internet service effective April 21.

Despite claims that implementing usage-based charges will save customers money, nearly every Telus broadband user is already paying a higher bill because of a rate increase announced in late January.

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telus data allowance

Telus’ usage allowances range from 15GB a month for High Speed Lite users to 400GB for Telus Internet 50 users. Telus is also imposing a scaled overlimit fee system based on the total amount of excess usage. Customers face a $5 overlimit fee for up to 50GB of overuse to a maximum of $75 for 350GB and above. A typical customer with a 150GB usage allowance using 250GB would pay the usual $55/month broadband charge plus a $25 overlimit penalty, raising the price of service to $80.

Starting in June, Telus will introduce an Unlimited Internet Usage option (price not disclosed) for any of their Internet plans.

overlimit fees

Telus wants to fence in "data hogs" with "fairness."

Telus wants to fence in “data hogs” with “fairness.”

“It’s fair that people pay for how much they use, as you would with any other service,” Telus explained. “Our goal is to offer customers a broad spectrum of plans that meet everyone’s needs, and to get customers on the right plan for them.

“Someone who uses their basic Internet service for a bit of email, Skyping with the grandkids, and sharing photos shouldn’t pay as much as someone who games and downloads hundreds of gigabytes of videos every month,” Telus added.

Of course, every customer is already paying more after Telus raised its broadband rates on Feb. 26.

“The cost of managing, expanding and improving our network continues to rise,” Telus explained. “We’re doing our best to keep rate increases as moderate as possible, while still offering great services, flexibility and good value.”

So effectively no customer is actually saving any money with Telus’ usage-based billing. They are actually paying more today and could potentially pay much more when overlimit fees take effect later this month.

HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

As the United States battles back against the introduction of usage caps and rising prices for broadband service, increased competition and regulated open wholesale access to some of Canada’s largest broadband providers have given Canadians an advantage in forcing providers to cut prices and improve service.

Canadians can now easily get unlimited broadband access from one of several independent ISPs that piggyback service on cable and phone networks. Some large ISPs have even introduced all-you-can eat broadband options for customers long-capped by the handful of big players. As customers consider switching providers, cable and phone companies have been forced to cut prices, especially for their best customers. Even cell service is now up for negotiation.

The more services a customer bundles with their provider, the bigger the discount they can negotiate, say analysts who track customer retention. Bell, Rogers, Telus, and others have a major interest keeping your business, even if it means reducing your price.

“It’s far more lucrative for the telecom company to keep you there for the third or fourth service,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told AP. It cuts down on marketing, service and installation calls, he added.

Getting the best deal often depends on your services, payment history, and how long you have been a customer. Cellphone discounts are the hardest to win, but customers are getting them if they have been loyal, carry a large balance and almost never pay late.

telus shawBigger discounts can be had for television and Internet service — cable television remains immensely profitable in Canada and broadband is cheap to offer, especially in cities. Americans often pay $80 or more for digital cable television packages, Canadians pay an average of $60.

Internet service in Canada now averages $45 a month, but many plans include usage caps. It costs more to take to the cap off.

Because of Canada’s past usage cap pervasiveness, online video is not as plentiful in Canada as it is in the United States. There has been considerably less cord-cutting in the north. Despite that, Canadians are ravenous online viewers of what they can find to watch (either legally or otherwise). As usage allowances disappear or become more generous, online video and the Internet will continue to grow in importance for service providers.

Customers should negotiate with their provider for a better deal, particularly if Bell’s Fibe TV is in town. Bell has been among the most aggressive in price cutting its fiber to the neighborhood television service for new customers ready to say goodbye to Rogers or Vidéotron.

Shaw and Telus battle for market share in the west and also have room to cut customer bills and still make a handsome profit.

Competition Not: Canada’s Forthcoming Spectrum Auction Bidders a Familiar Lot

before after

Before -and- After

Hopes for increased Canadian wireless competition were dashed last week when Industry Canada released an official list of approved spectrum auction bidders mostly filled with familiar names.

Fifteen Canadian participants including market-dominant Bell, Rogers and Telus each put down a refundable 5% deposit for the Jan. 14 auction. Most of the rest of the bidders are regional providers or suspected spectrum speculators hoping to sell any acquired spectrum at a profit.

It was good news for the three largest cell companies which feared the possibility of a well-funded new entrant like Verizon Wireless. Instead of facing the deep pockets of Verizon, the three cell companies will be competing against regional providers like Quebec’s Vidéotron, Bragg Communications’ EastLink which serves Atlantic Canada, and provincial telephone companies MTS in Manitoba and SaskTel in Saskatchewan.

Two private equity firms are also participating: a subsidiary of Birch Hill Equity Partners and Catalyst Capital which holds the debt for independent Wind Mobile. Wind Mobile’s owner Globalive Communications is also registered as a participant. Both could use the airwaves in the Wind Mobile business or sell them to another provider.

“Ultimately, what would have been great is to have a well-capitalized startup, a feisty competitor coming in,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told the Canadian Press news agency. “That would have been the best thing for consumers.”

But Canada’s best hope for lower cell phone bills was never to be found from Verizon Wireless.

“I can assure our investors that we never have and never will be leading on price,” Lowell McAdam told investors at a conference last week.

Verizon Says It Won’t Enter Canada; Incumbent Providers’ See Major Stock Gains

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svgExecutives at Canada’s largest telecom companies are sighing relief after Verizon announced it was not interested in competing in Canada.

“Verizon is not going to Canada,” Lowell McAdam, chief executive officer of New York-based Verizon, said yesterday in a phone interview with Bloomberg News. “It has nothing to do with the Vodafone deal, it has to do with our view of what kind of value we could get for shareholders. If we thought it had great value creation we would do it.”

McAdam added he thought speculation about Verizon’s plans in Canada was “way overblown.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Big 3 Canada telecom stocks surge as Verizon threat fades 9-3-13.flv

The CBC reports three of the largest telecom companies in Canada are seeing their stock prices soar on news Verizon won’t enter Canada. Kevin O’Leary takes a position shared by Bell, Telus and Rogers that no spectrum should be set aside for new competitors. Instead, he seeks a “winner takes all” auction, even if it means dominant incumbent carriers monopolize every available frequency. (3 minutes)

McAdam

McAdam

Verizon’s possible entry into Canada was among the hottest stories of the summer, even reported on the CBC’s national nightly news. The potential new competition provoked Bell, Rogers, and Telus — three of Canada’s largest phone and cable companies — to join forces in a multimillion dollar lobbying effort to slow Verizon down and make the wireless business in Canada less attractive. The Harper government used news of Verizon’s potential entry to promote its policies favoring competition over regulation.

Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said the company was considering a wireless venture in Canada at a June Wall Street investor conference.

“We’re looking at the opportunity,” Shammo said at the time. “This is just us dipping our toe in the water.”

Verizon took its toe out yesterday, despite the potential profits available in a country criticized for its extremely expensive cell phone service.

“I’m surprised that Verizon isn’t interested in Canada,” tweeted Adam Shore. “There are over 33 million suckers up here that will pay ridiculous cell phone rates.”

Bell joined Telus and Rogers to launch a multi-million dollar lobbying effort to make Verizon's entry into Canada difficult.

Bell joined Telus and Rogers in launching a multi-million dollar lobbying effort to make Verizon’s entry into Canada difficult.

The three companies most Canadians now buy wireless service from denied they wanted to keep Verizon out, arguing they simply wanted a “level playing field.”

Industry Minister James Moore suggested a fourth large player could provoke a price war in a way much smaller wireless providers like Wind Mobile or Mobilicity never could. The government was willing to set aside coveted 700MHz wireless spectrum at a forthcoming auction to help a new entrant — any new entrant — get started.

Verizon’s decision to stay out might have delivered a damaging blow to the Conservative government’s “pro-competition” solution to the problem of high cell phone bills. After the announcement, Moore was left promising only that spectrum auctions would carry on regardless of Verizon’s decision.

For now, the best chance of increased competition comes from Quebecor, which is gradually expanding its wireless network. Spectrum set asides almost guarantee the owner of Quebec’s cable giant Vidéotron will be able to bid for and win significant spectrum at the upcoming auction, some at a discount.

“If Verizon doesn’t show up, they’re actually in a very strong position to buy a block of spectrum that will not be very expensive,” Maher Yaghi, an analyst at Desjardins Securities Inc., told Bloomberg News. “Wireless is currently providing them with a nice growth platform.”

Without a surprise late entrant suddenly announcing interest by the auction filing deadline of Sept. 17, many analysts predict the outcome will likely not deliver Canadians any significant changes in cell phone service and pricing. The government may also be disappointed with the auction proceeds. Canada’s big three will likely avoid overbidding and still end up dividing most of the available airwaves between them. Quebecor may end up with most of the rest at comparatively “fire sale” prices. The Montreal-based company must then decide how much it will spend to expand its home coverage areas outside of Quebec, Toronto, and southeastern Ontario.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Verizon Wont Enter Canada 9-3-13.flv

BNN reports Verizon’s decision not to enter Canada leaves the Conservative government without an effective means to moderate cell phone pricing in the country. Mary Anne de Monte-Whelan, president of The Delan Group, observed the government may be forced to take a more regulatory approach to control expensive cell service, possibly starting with roaming rates.  (7 minutes)

Canadian Wireless Carriers Freak Out Over Rumored Verizon Entry; Panic Buttons Pressed

upsetcableguyThe three companies that control 90 percent of Canada’s cell phone marketplace have set what they argue is ‘cut-throat’ competition aside to team up in a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign to discourage Verizon Wireless from entering the country.

Bell, Rogers, and Telus have maintained what critics charge is a “three-headed oligopoly” in the wireless business for years, leading to findings from the OECD that Canada is among the ten most expensive countries in the world for wireless service in almost every category and has among the highest roaming rates in the world.

Americans also pay high cell phone prices, and customers of both countries will find somewhat comparable pricing when comparing prices north or south of Lake Ontario. A shopper in Niagara Falls, N.Y. can find the Samsung Galaxy S4 from a Verizon reseller for $120 with a two-year contract. A shared data service plan runs as little as $80 a month for 500MB of data and unlimited domestic calling and global texting. Travel across the Rainbow Bridge to Niagara Falls, Ontario, walk into a Rogers store and the same phone runs $199 with a two-year contract (most Canadian carriers used to offer three-year special reportcontracts until the government banned them earlier this year) and a service plan running $80 a month offering the same 500MB of data and unlimited domestic calling and texting. Rogers charges extra if customers want to text a customer outside of Canada, however.

Verizon is no discount carrier. Verizon management has repeatedly stressed it offers premium service and coverage and can charge commensurately higher prices for access to that network. So the idea that Verizon’s interest in entering Canada is to launch a vicious price war is suspect, according to many telecommunications analysts.

Keep Verizon out of Canada at all costs!

They are coming.

They are coming.

In June, the Globe and Mail reported Verizon had shown serious interest in acquiring Canadian cellular upstart Wind Mobile with an early bid of $700 million. Wind Mobile, one of the three significant new “no-contract” entrants vying for a piece of the country’s cell phone market, has limped along since opening for business in 2009, unable to attract much interest from customers concerned about coverage gaps and the poor choice of mobile devices.

More recently, Wind Mobile’s new owner — the Russian mobile giant Vimpelcom — has expressed an interest in selling off the carrier because it cannot gain traction against the biggest three, which also control 85 percent of mobile wireless spectrum.

News that Verizon had taken an interest in the carrier leveled shock waves across the Canadian financial markets. Shares in the three largest telecom giants fell sharply on the news. Earlier this month, Bell CEO George Cope reported that Bell, Telus and Rogers have taken a $15-billion cumulative hit on the capital markets since Verizon hinted interest in Wind Mobile.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Verizon takes aim at telecom Big 3 with possible Wind Mobile bid 8-19-13.flv

The CBC reported earlier this summer that Verizon Wireless was interested in acquiring the 600,000 customers of independent wireless provider Wind Mobile, which has an insignificant share of the Canadian wireless market. (2 minutes)

Spending a few million, or even a billion dollars, to keep Verizon south of the Canadian-U.S. border is well worth it to the three big players who have launched an expensive campaign to block the proposed transaction and are willing to pay premium prices to keep struggling carriers from being sold to deep-pocketed American telecom companies.

bribesTelus had already done its part, attempting to scoop up another scrappy upstart carrier that wanted out of the wireless business. But the Canadian government rejected Telus’ proposed acquisition of Mobilicity, claiming it would harm efforts to expand Canadian wireless competition. Not to be deterred, Rogers is now attempting a cleverly structured deal to acquire Wind Mobile out from under Verizon with a proposed buyout worth more than $1 billion.

To avoid the anticipated rejection of the deal by Canadian regulators on competition grounds, Rogers has reportedly joined forces with Toronto-based private equity firm Birch Hill Partners that would make that firm the owners-in-name. Although Rogers wouldn’t get a direct equity stake in Wind, it would finance a good part of the deal and win access and control of Wind’s mobile spectrum for its own network. More importantly, it could keep Verizon out of Canada.

“The government is handing out loopholes to Verizon to beg them into Canada”

Cell phone companies in Canada are particularly angry that the government has set aside certain spectrum and guaranteed access for upstart providers to successfully establish themselves without having to outbid the cash-rich big three for wireless frequencies or have to build a nationwide network from scratch. Bell, Rogers and Telus have consistently opposed spectrum set-asides for small carriers, deeming them “unfair.” They argue Canadians’ voracious needs for more wireless service are unending, and it would be unfair not to sell the spectrum to benefit their larger customer bases. But hearing that Verizon, a company larger than Bell, Rogers, and Telus combined, could get preferential treatment and spectrum to enter the country has them boiling mad.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Telecom debate 8-19-13.flv

Bell’s CEO George Cope appeared on “The Lang and O’Leary Exchange” to debate the fairness of Verizon’s possible entry into Canada’s wireless market. Cope argues Verizon is getting special favors. (9 minutes)

Cope

Cope

The idea of luring a company to move or begin offering service in a barely competitive marketplace is hardly new. Cities have offered preferential policies to airlines to fly in and out of particular cities, local governments have offered tax abatements to get companies to set up shop, and providing exemptions for zoning and infrastructure have been familiar to telecommunications companies for decades.

In 1880, the National Bell Telephone Company had incorporated, through an Act of Parliament, the Bell Telephone Company of Canada (today also known as BCE), which was given the right to build telephone lines over and along all public property and rights-of-way without compensation to the public or former owners. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Bell would later become the dominant monopoly provider of telephone service across much of eastern Canada.

When the phone companies were handed wireless spectrum to launch their wireless businesses in the 1980s, they didn’t have anything to complain about either.

None of that history impressed Bell’s current CEO George Cope, who took to the airwaves to complain Verizon was being given preferential treatment:

  • Verizon could bid on two blocks of Canadian spectrum set aside for new entrants to the market in auction later this year. Because the big three Canadian firms are not permitted to bid on these blocks, they are likely to be sold at a lower price.
  • Verizon would not have to build its own networks to remote or rural communities, but would be able to piggyback on existing networks.
  • Verizon can bid to acquire small Canadian companies such as Mobilicity or Wind, but Bell, Telus and Rogers are forbidden from bidding on them.

“A company of this size certainly doesn’t need handouts from Canadians or special regulatory advantages over Canadian companies,” Bell said in a full-page newspaper ad. “But that is exactly what they get in the new federal wireless regulations. We’re ready to compete head to head, but it has to be a level playing field,” Cope said in a TV interview, echoing Rogers CEO who also called for a “level playing field.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Is Verizon really the bogeyman Canada's telecom giants claim 8-19-13.flv

Bell, Telus, and Rogers have launched a lobbying campaign designed to make life difficult for Verizon Wireless if it chooses to enter Canada. The CBC reports Verizon will be able to bid on more spectrum than Canadian carriers and will have the right to roam on Canada’s incumbent wireless networks. (2 minutes)

Industry Minister Moore

Industry Minister Moore

Telus went further, claiming Verizon’s entry into Canada would result in a “bloodbath” for Canadian workers, laid off by the three largest Canadian providers to cut costs to better compete with Verizon.

But Cope said at least one Canadian carrier won’t be able to compete at all, because preferential treatment for wireless spectrum will result in at least one of the big three to lose at a forthcoming spectrum auction, guaranteeing degraded wireless broadband speeds and worse service.

The three companies have found little sympathy in Ottawa, particularly from Industry Minister James Moore, now on a road tour across Canada to promote the government’s wireless competition policies. He called the big three’s loud campaign self-serving and announced a new website sponsored by the Conservative Party of Canada to prove it.

“I think that the public instinctively knows that when they have more choices that prices go down and more competition they’re well served by that,” he told CBC News in Vancouver on Monday. “The noise that we’re hearing is about you know companies trying to protect their company’s interest. Our job as a government is larger than that, our job is to serve the public interest and make sure that the public is served in this so that’s one of the reasons why I’m pushing back a little bit.”

Industry Minister James Moore appeared on CBC Radio this morning to contest the wireless industry’s claims that Verizon is getting special treatment and will bring unfair competition to the Canadian wireless market. (7 minutes)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Oppose Verizon Wireless. Do it for Canada!

But the wireless companies show no signs of backing down and have turned towards appealing to Canadian nationalism and fairness.

fair for canada“The U.S. government is not giving Canadian wireless carriers any special access to the U.S. market,” says a website launched by the big three cell providers to drum up support for a “level playing field.” “Then why is it that our own government is giving American companies preferential treatment over our own companies?”

This week, a Reuters report citing unnamed sources suggests Bell, Telus, and Rogers are about to target Verizon directly with a new campaign warning Canadians the American giant has been implicated in allowing the U.S. government open access to network and customer data, which would represent a profound privacy threat to Canadian customers.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bell Rogers Telus Ad 8-13.flv

Bell, Telus, and Rogers paid to produce this ad calling on Canadians to protest unfair competition from an American wireless company.  (1 minute)

So far, Canadians’ hatred of their telecommunications providers has trumped the companies’ public relations and scare tactics. The Conservative government in Ottawa is winning support for its wireless competition war, even from unlikely places.

tweet“Someone mark the date,” Tweeted one Halifax woman not inclined to vote Conservative. “Stephen Harper has done something I mostly support.”

“Eat it Telus/Bell/Rogers,” wrote a Calgary man fed up with the lack of competition in Canadian wireless.

John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, says opposition from the big three telecom companies is obvious because they don’t want to face a fourth, powerful competitor.

“They should be scared because chances are they’re going to have more competition in the Canadian market if Verizon comes in and they are going to have to lower their prices and compete harder,” Lawford told CBC News. “It’s pretty rich of them to be talking about unfairness” when they already control 90 per cent of Canadian spectrum, he added.

Iain Grant of the SeaBoard Group, a telecommunications consultancy, said government policies to open up more competition are designed to shake things up.

“[The new rules weren’t] meant to be a level playing field,” said Grant. “[They were] meant to give a leg up [to new competitors].”

“To talk of loopholes, as some do, is to not understand that the same companies who complain most loudly about loopholes in 2013 were the recipients of even greater public largesse in 1985 when the government gifted their initial spectrum as an incentive to build a wireless business in Canada,” said Grant.

wireless north america

Few companies have taken on the Canadian big three telecom providers because of their enormous market share, at least inside Canada.

Nine out of ten Canadian wireless users are subscribed to Bell, Telus or Rogers. Trying to convince a banker to extend capital loans to effectively confront a wireless oligopoly in a country with an enormous expanse of land but not people and find enough airwaves among the 15% not controlled by the big three is an uphill battle.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Wireless war heats up 8-19-13.flv

CBC reports Industry Minister Moore believes increasing competition is the best way to cut Canadian cell phone bills. Regardless of whether Verizon enters Canada, the current government will continue to push for more competition. Even the threat of Verizon coming to Canada has already reduced prices. (2 minutes)

Why does Verizon want to enter Canada?

roamingAnalysts suspect Verizon’s interest in Canada has little to do with wooing Canadians to Big Red. Many suspect Verizon’s true interest is to make life easier for its traveling American customers who head north for business or pleasure.

Chief among the possible benefits is the elimination of roaming charges for Verizon customers.

“Verizon’s customers come into the country every day through all the bridges and ports of entries and they want to roam where they want to roam, whether that’s fishing in Saskatchewan or hunting in northern Ontario or wherever,” said Grant.

There are other apparent impediments that could limit the usefulness of Wind’s mobile network to Verizon. In addition to only operating in the largest Canadian cities, Wind’s infrastructure is built by Chinese firm Huawei and is not compatible with Verizon’s technology.

Huawei has been the subject of significant controversy because of its reported ties to the Chinese military. Fears that data could be intercepted by the Chinese government have kept many North American firms from doing business with the company.

Verizon also lacks bundling options for Canadian customers. The biggest three Canadian providers can offer telephone, television, and wired broadband service to their customers. Verizon can only offer wireless service.

Verizon has second thoughts

Perhaps most remarkable are late reports that Verizon may be having second thoughts about jumping into Canada’s wireless market.

Desjardins analyst Maher Yaghi said Verizon may have delayed its plans until after Ottawa’s auction of 700MHz spectrum planned for January to better understand the potential spectrum costs it will incur entering Canada.

Others speculate incumbent providers may be attempting to end the rationale for Verizon to enter Canada in the first place. One major development includes a much more favorable roaming deal for Verizon that could dramatically cut the costs for Verizon customers to roam on Canadian networks.

Regardless of what Verizon does, Industry Minister Moore says Canada’s goal of getting increased competition will continue.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Verizon doubts 8-15-13.flv

CBC reports Verizon may be having second thoughts about entering Canada. Verizon may not be interested in entering a political battle to win licenses to provide service and may want to acquire its own spectrum before considering buying either Wind Mobile or another competitor like Mobilicity. (2 minutes)

Telus Phone Rates Going Up in July But You Can Snag a $5 Credit Before Aug. 1

Phillip Dampier June 25, 2013 Canada, Consumer News, Telus 1 Comment

logoTelusTelus, western Canada’s largest phone company, is increasing phone rates again and introducing a new $2 paper bill fee in August.

Starting July 6, Telus is raising the monthly rate for some Home Phone customers:

  • Local Line, Smart Home Bundle – 3 Pack, Smart Home Bundle – 4 Pack, and Smart Home Bundle – 13 Pack customers will see an increase between $0.05 and $4.43;
  • TELUS home phone – lite customers will see an increase of $2;
  • TELUS home phone – basic customers will see an increase of either $2 or $3.

Exact details on how the increases will impact your monthly rate will appear on the last page of your Telus bill issued between June 6 and July 5, or you can get access to an electronic copy of your latest bill from Telus’ e.Bill system.

Telus is also raising rates on the following calling features by $3 a month when they are purchased individually:

  • Anonymous Caller ID
  • Call Screen
  • Caller Reveal
  • Voice Mail Simple CO
  • Call Forwarding
  • Call Gate
  • Smart Ring

Telus wants to encourage customers to subscribe to bundled, multiple calling feature packages.

Beginning Aug. 1, Telus will also start charging a $2 monthly fee for High Speed Internet customers who choose to receive a paper copy of their bill. Customers can sign up for e.Bill to avoid this charge. Telus customers who do not subscribe to broadband will not be charged the fee.

With paper bill fees forthcoming for Telus’ Internet customers, most will want to convert to electronic billing to avoid the extra charge. Until Aug. 1, customers who volunteer to switch will get a $5 credit applied to their account.

To switch to e.Bill, register your account online, and choose e.Bill when asked about your Billing Method. Already registered? Log into your account, click your account number, and click “Update” on the billing method line.

Canadian Wireless Competition? One Down, Two to Go: Telus Acquires Mobilicity

mobilicityWhen Industry Canada announced it was planning to boost competition by setting aside certain spectrum for new competitors entering the wireless marketplace, the Conservative government promised Canadians they would see a new era of robust competition and lower prices as a result.

Today, it turns out the only competition around is watching which of the three largest wireless carriers snap up their newest competitors first.

Telus, Canada’s third largest wireless carrier, today announced it was acquiring Mobilicity for $380 million — almost exactly the amount of outstanding debt owed by the Data & Audio Visual Enterprises Holdings’ venture. That means Telus will pick up its competitor just by agreeing to pay its bills.

Mobilicity said it was burning through cash at an alarming rate and simply could not attract enough customers in its home service cities Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, to become profitable. It also reportedly lacked financial resources to take part in a forthcoming spectrum auction that would have been critical to the company’s long-term survival.

...to a mega-merger of Bell and Telus.

Informal merger talks among the three largest independent carriers — Wind Mobile, Public Mobile, and Mobilicity — reportedly went nowhere.

“Mobilicity has been losing a significant amount of money every month,” Mobilicity’s chief restructuring officer, William Aziz, said today. “The financial strength of Telus will allow the business to be continued in a way that will benefit customers and employees. An acquisition by Telus is the best alternative for Mobilicity.”

But that may not be the best alternative for Canadians. Regulators are expected to scrutinize the merger and current rules do not allow Telus to acquire the spectrum Mobilicity holds until next year. But with few other expected buyers, regulators may have no choice but to allow the deal to go through.

If approved, Telus will pick up Mobilicity’s 250,000 customers and likely switch them to Koodo Mobile, its prepaid division.

Minister Paradis

Minister Paradis

Mobilicity customers could do worse. Koodo Mobile, given a “C” grade by Canadian consumers, was Canada’s highest rated wireless carrier. That disparity hints at how much Canadians loathe their current wireless options.

Bay Street investors were not surprised by the announced merger, believing competition has its limits in a marketplace dominated by three enormous telecom companies — Bell (BCE), Rogers, and Telus — all collectively holding more than a 90% share of the Canadian wireless market. Many expect the remaining independent providers to also jettison their businesses or combine them in a last stand.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis, the Conservative government’s point man on independent competition in the wireless market, was caught off guard by the apparent faltering of the new carriers.

Paradis said he remains committed to making sure Canadians have a fourth choice for wireless service in every regional market in the country. But his only assured success is in Québec, where Vidéotron — the provincial cable company — competes with the big three providers. That competition has worked in that province to hold pricing down. According to The Globe & Mail, the average monthly bill in Québec dropped to $50.36 a month in 2011 from its peak in 2009 and is on par with where it stood in 2007. In comparison, according to CBC News, the average monthly wireless bill across Canada was $77 in 2013, up from $68 in last year’s survey.

Paradis is now pondering new regulations that would prevent the three largest carriers from buying out the remaining two independent providers just for their spectrum assets.

The merger will need regulatory approval from The Competition Bureau, Industry Canada, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Telus in Talks to Buy Mobilicity 4-13.flv

BNN reported back in April that Telus and Mobilicity were in acquisition talks. The news channel speaks with Maher Yaghi from Desjardins Securities about the implications the merger would have on the Canadian cell phone market and the prices consumers pay. (5 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Telus Acquiring Mobilicity 5-16-13.flv

BNN this morning reported the ball is back in Ottawa’s hands as the government tries to decide how it can salvage its wireless competition agenda. (6 minutes)

Canada’s Independent Wireless Providers Capitulate With “For Sale” Signs; Telus Interested

mobilicityCanada’s effort to expand mobile competition has likely failed with news that three of the most significant new independent entrants have put themselves up for sale, with one likely to be acquired by Telus, western Canada’s largest phone company.

With Bell Canada, Rogers Communications, and Telus dominating at least 90 percent of Canada’s wireless marketplace, breaking up the triopoly was unlikely to be easy, but three of Canada’s newest players that acquired spectrum just five years ago are already looking for exit strategies.

Bloomberg News reported Friday that Mobilicity is in talks to be imminently acquired by Telus for between $350-400 million. Public Mobile has hired investment bankers to find a buyer. Vimpelcom, Ltd., which owns Wind Mobile, announced it was “exploring its options, including divestment.”

telus bullThe three companies have competed with the dominant players for about three years with little success. Combined, the three have not managed to achieve even a combined 10 percent market share. Most sell unlimited talk and text plans to customers that would normally buy prepaid service.

Potentially slowing any sale is a requirement that none of the independent companies can transfer their spectrum licenses until 2014, a condition of the 2008 special spectrum auction that reserved prime frequencies for new competitors and put them off-limits to larger mobile companies.

Telus remains the most likely suitor of independent providers because the company lacks the spectrum assets of its larger competitors Bell and Rogers.

Mobilicity operates its HSPA+ “4G” network on Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) frequencies in the 1,700MHz range. Although Telus has considerable spectrum in British Columbia and Alberta — its home territory — the provider has considerably less in eastern Canada, particularly in large metropolitan cities. Mobilicity has a tiny market share in the Greater Toronto Area, yet its AWS spectrum equals that of Telus in the city. Telus could find an acquisition of Mobilicity the easiest way to bolster its available spectrum for future 4G deployment and expansion.

TELUS-Spectrum-Depth

Three small independent wireless providers hold almost as much combined spectrum as Telus holds today.

Any exit of a combination of Canada’s newest wireless players will likely be seen as a failure of the government’s efforts to bolster competition. The dominance among the three largest providers has left Canadians with high-cost plans and a wireless service contract that lasts one year longer than America’s standard two-year service agreement.

Industry Canada, the economic regulator fostering a growing, competitive and knowledge-based Canadian economy, had little to say about the news.

“Any transaction that requires regulatory approval will be considered accordingly,” said Alexandra Fortier, a spokeswoman for Industry Minister Christian Paradis. “We cannot comment on speculation.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Canadas newest wireless players seek buyers 4-12-13.flv

BNN reports industry consolidation is likely forthcoming in Canada’s wireless marketplace as Telus seeks to acquire independent provider Mobilicity. A financial analyst says the move is designed to curb budget-priced wireless service in Canada. Mobilicity would likely eventually be merged into Telus-owned Koodo Mobile, the company’s prepaid mobile division.  (5 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Globe and Mail Feds aim to open up wireless market 3-13.flv

Too little, too late? Industry Minister Christian Paradis says the Harper government wants to open up the wireless market to more players with another wireless spectrum auction. But now several of Canada’s newest independent providers are all up for sale, and the country’s dominant three may end up owning one or more of them.  (2 minutes)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Globe and Mail Market View Why we love to hate our wireless companies 3-13.flv

The Toronto Globe & Mail explores why Canadians hate their cell phone and mobile broadband providers so much.  (2 minutes)

Telus Slashes Usage Allowances and Bumps Up Prices for Western Canadians

Phillip Dampier February 8, 2013 Canada, Competition, Internet Overcharging, Telus 1 Comment
Another ISP Limbo Dance. How low can they go?

Another ISP Limbo Dance. How low can they go?

Telus, western Canada’s largest phone company, has announced it is slashing usage allowances as much as half and raising prices up to $8 a month on broadband packages, eight months after last summer’s $3 rate hike.

A sample:

  • Internet 6 was $37, now $45. Usage cap reduced to 100GB, was 150GB.
  • Internet 15 was $42, now $50. Usage cap reduced to 150GB, was 250GB.
  • Internet 25 was $52 now $60. Usage cap reduced to 250GB, was 500GB.
  • Internet 50 was $75 now $80.

A Telus spokesperson explained the reasons for the rate increases and allowance slashing:

It is only fair for customers to pay for the amount of bandwidth they use and be on a plan that realistically reflects their usage patterns; otherwise, moderate users end up subsidizing heavy users. Even with the change TELUS has some of the most generous usage caps in comparison to many other ISP’s. Most customers use only a fraction of the allotted threshold. Usage limits are put into place so that the small percentage of high usage customers to not impact the internet experience for other users on the network. We currently do not charge for over usage, but the thresholds allow us to ensure that customers are on an appropriate plan for them.

The rate increase is in response to rising costs in providing and maintaining the network. Since 2000, TELUS has invested more than $30 billion in infrastructure across Canada to provide our customers with some of the best communications technology anywhere in the world. These increases affect all clients, from TELUS employees to brand new sign-ups. All the pricing has been adjusted to the higher rate. In terms of price and quality TELUS Internet is very competitive versus our competitors. In most cases, TELUS services will still be less expensive than similar offerings from our competitors.

telus bullMost existing clients have already had the benefit of a promotion on sign-up. As with all promotions, including the current new client promotions, they run for a limited time and the discounts they offer expire. We do have loyalty programs in place for existing loyal clients and we do offer existing clients the new promotions in cases where they may not have received anything when they signed up.

Customers are outraged about the changes, particularly because Telus has been raising prices twice a year since 2011. The new rate plans are now comparable to Telus’ largest competitor, Shaw Cable.

Telus has not traditionally enforced usage cap violations on their network, nor have they imposed overlimit fees. But a customer service representative said “Telus can suspend allowance violators for 30 days for repeated violations.”

In North America, virtually every major ISP has watched bandwidth costs decline as connectivity continues to get cheaper. But that does not stop some providers from raising prices and slashing usage limits on a service most Canadians find they cannot live without.

Fed Up Canadians Tell the CRTC: Stop 36 Month, Auto-Renewing Cell Phone Contracts

iphone termThink your wireless service contract ties you down?

More than 500 Canadians filed comments about their wireless service with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission as the telecom regulator wrestles with a proposed code of conduct for Canada’s wireless industry and the contracts they hand customers. Why? Because of language like this from a typical contract with Rogers Communications:

Device Savings Recovery Fee (applicable to term commitment customers only for any new term entered into on or after January 22, 2012): A Device Savings Recovery Fee (DSRF) applies if you have been granted an Economic Inducement (as defined below) upon entering your new term, and if, for any reason, your wireless service or your new term is terminated prior to the end of the term of your Service Agreement (Service Agreement Term). The DSRF is the amount of the economic inducement (which may take the form of a discount, rebate or other benefit granted on the price of your Equipment), as stated in your Service Agreement (Economic Inducement), less the amount obtained by multiplying such Economic Inducement by a fraction representing the number of months elapsed in your Service Agreement Term as compared to the total number of months of your Service Agreement Term (plus applicable taxes). In other words, DSRF = Economic Inducement [Economic Inducement × (# months elapsed in your Service Agreement Term ÷ Total # months in your Service Agreement Term)] + applicable taxes. An Additional Device Savings Recovery Fee (ADSRF) also applies if, for any reason, your wireless data service, or your data plans commitment term (Data Term), is terminated prior to the end of your Data Term. An Additional Device Savings Recovery Fee (ADSRF) also applies if, for any reason, your wireless data service, or your data plans commitment term (Data Term), is terminated prior to the end of your Data Term. The ADSRF is the additional Economic Inducement you received for subscribing to your wireless data service, less the amount obtained by multiplying such Economic Inducement by a fraction representing the number of months elapsed in your Data Term as compared to the total number of months of your Data Term (plus applicable taxes), and applies in addition to the DSRF for termination of your Service Agreement. If you subscribe to a plan combining both voice and data services, both the DSRF and the ADSRF apply, up to the total Economic Inducement.

Despite contract confusion being an issue in the eyes of the CRTC, the overwhelming majority of comments focused on something else that irks Canadians above all else: being held hostage by the industry’s traditional 36-month wireless contract, one year longer than consumers in the United States find common.

“Get rid of the 36 months contract,” wrote one Canadian, noting contract creep is all the rage. “It first started with 12 months, then 24 months, now the standard is 36 months, which is ridiculous!”

Most of the comments came from customers of the chief three providers: Bell, Rogers, and Telus. All three received scorn from customers for uncompetitive, expensive service.

The state of competition in Canada:

Roger offers new plans:
– $55 1000min local, unlimited text, 200MB
– $65 unlimited local/text, 1GB
– $75 unlimited local/text, 2GB
– $95 unlimited canada/text, 5GB

Then Bell offers their new competitive plans:
– $55 1000 min local, unlimited text, 200MB
– $65 unlimited local/text, 1GB
– $75 unlimited local/text, 2GB
– $95 unlimited canada/text, 5GB

Then Telus offers their competitive plans:
– $70 unlimited local/text, 1GB
– $80 unlimited local/text, 3GB
– $100 unlimited canada/text, 5GB

Where is the competition? These plans are all the same.

crtcAlso unfamiliar to Americans, the automatically-renewing contract that snags Canadians that forget to cancel with a brand new service commitment complete with a cancellation penalty. Perhaps the most consumer-friendly provinces in Canada are Quebec and Manitoba, which ban certain kinds of termination fees and auto-renewing contracts. Canadians want these bans extended nationwide. The European Union already bans 36 month contracts and made 24 months the maximum. One former resident of the United Kingdom noted the EU also compels providers to offer 12 month contracts for those who want them.

The CRTC may not provide much relief if it remains convinced the marketplace remains competitive.

The agency points out under the Telecommunications Act, the CRTC will only intervene in a market if there is insufficient competition to protect the interests of users.  In the 1990s the CRTC decided to allow market forces to guide the growth of the mobile wireless industry.

The CRTC seems to have already made up its mind on this issue when it announced its proceeding:

In the decision issued on 11 October 2012, the CRTC found that there was competition sufficient to protect the interests of consumers and it did not need to regulate rates.  Although many consumers indicated concerns about wireless rates and the competitiveness of the wireless market, a number of market indicators demonstrate that consumers have a choice of competitive service providers and a range of rates and payment options for mobile wireless services. According to the CRTC’s 2012 Communications Monitoring Reportnew entrants in the mobile wireless market continue to increase their market share and coverage. Companies continue to invest in new infrastructure to bring new innovative services to more Canadians. Moreover, the average cost per month for mobile wireless services has remained relatively stable.

The CRTC concluded that competition in the mobile wireless market continues to be sufficient to protect the interests of users with respect to rates and choice of competitive service provider.

That makes it more likely than not the agency will limit itself to ordering wireless carriers to better explain their wireless policies, not force them to change them.

The only relief potentially available outside of canceling service is considering one of several new competitors which offer relaxed terms and better prices to attract customers. So far, only 4% of Canadians have switched to WIND, Mobilicity, Vidéotron, or Public Mobile. Some may be trapped in current contracts with larger companies or are discouraged having to buy new equipment to switch providers. Most providers in Canada, like in the United States, lock phones so they cannot be easily used on another company’s network.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CRTC Cell Phone Contracts 12-12.flv

The CRTC used this video to invite consumers to share comments about confusing wireless service contracts. Instead, criticism of tricky term contracts that auto-renew and last three years arrived in buckets. (2 minutes)

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