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Telus Slashes Usage Allowances and Bumps Up Prices for Western Canadians

Phillip Dampier February 8, 2013 Canada, Competition, Data Caps, 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

Phillip Dampier December 12, 2012 Bell (Canada), Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rogers, Telus, Video, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on 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.

[flv width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CRTC Cell Phone Contracts 12-12.flv[/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)

Shaw Cable Ending Aggressive Pricing Promotions; Price War is “Lose, Lose Situation”

Phillip Dampier July 5, 2012 Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps, Shaw, Telus, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Shaw Cable Ending Aggressive Pricing Promotions; Price War is “Lose, Lose Situation”

Shaw Communications executives last week announced, to the relief of Wall Street, the cable company is pulling back on great deals for cable TV, Internet and phone service this summer.

In an effort to appease Wall Street analysts like Phillip Huang, a researcher for UBS Investment Bank — who fear lower prices could “spiral into a price war, which obviously would be a lose, lose situation,” Shaw has made it clear it intends to stop some of its most aggressive promotions this summer.

“When you talk about promotions in the market, we’ve been very disciplined in that regard,” Shaw executives told analysts on last week’s quarterly results conference call. “It’s a highly competitive environment and will continue to be that way and we’re going to operate in a certain fashion.”

That “certain fashion” has cost them at least 21,500 subscribers who have already left Shaw this past quarter, most headed to Shaw’s biggest competitor Telus.

But some Wall Street analysts remain unsatisfied, noting there are major differences in telecommunications pricing in Canada. Western Canadians pay substantially less for phone, cable, and broadband service than their counterparts in Ontario and Quebec. Shaw and Telus customers also have much larger usage allowances for broadband service, and Telus so far has not enforced what limits they have.

Analysts peppered Shaw executives about why they are not raising prices to match what Bell, Rogers, and Vidéotron customers further east are paying.

Jay Mehr, Shaw’s senior vice president of operations told investors to hang in there.

“We still believe that we have some good pricing power when discipline really comes back into this market,” Mehr said on the call with investors. That signals Shaw is prepared to raise prices when aggressive deals end.

Wall Street also questioned why the company does not use long-term contracts to lock customers in place:


Glen Campbell – BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division: […] On service contracts: You’ve been pretty firm in not using them. Your competitor clearly does. […] Can you talk about the reasons for not going down the service contract road and whether you might reconsider that position?

Bradley S. Shaw – Shaw Communications: Well, there’s arguments for contracts as you — I guess, it’s really what these contracts do. As you said, we have equipment. Our [indiscernible] space — our Easy Own plan certainly is a very consumer-friendly plan as customers are getting something, and they’re agreeing to pay for it over time. And that creates kind of a natural kind of a relationship. What we don’t want to have happen is having customers, who are feeling confined by a contract, who otherwise would like to do something else. We don’t think that’s consumer-friendly. And so we’re looking at ways that we’d have more consumer-friendly kind of relationships but that still create some kind of a longer-term relationship that you can count on. But we don’t want to have the ball and chain kind of contracts that others have adopted.

[…] From a customer point of view. But also, the nature of contracts is there needs to be an enticement to get the customer sign a contract, and that enticement tends to be what we’re seeing in the market, which is fairly significant giveaways of hardware and other devices to be able to incent that. And so it will have has an impact on your cost of acquisition, and we’re trying to manage that. As Peter said, our Easy Own program is a very customer-friendly way for people to come on and make a commitment to us. And at the end of the period, they own their equipment. They haven’t had to pay upfront, and so it’s a nice way to manage that without being heavy-handed.

Shaw’s Exo Wi-Fi service is coming soon across western Canada.

Some other developments at Shaw, reported during the conference call:

  • Spending on upgrades will continue to be on the aggressive side as the company builds out its new Exo Wi-Fi network and converts cable systems to digital service, creating additional space for broadband speed increases and other services;
  • Broadband delivers the highest profit margins of all of Shaw’s services, so it remains a very important part of Shaw’s package;
  • Customers are gravitating towards higher speed broadband packages, delivering extra revenue;
  • The company has re-priced some of its plans and offers to be more friendly to broadband-only customers;
  • Shaw is working to gain approval from communities across western Canada to deploy its Wi-Fi network, with plans to begin limited promotion of the new service by late fall or early 2013. Shaw expects its Wi-Fi network to have substantial coverage across the region within three years;
  • Shaw plans to work with U.S. cable operators to participate in a Wi-Fi roaming network that will allow its customers access to the Wi-Fi networks being built in the United States;
  • Shaw’s “TV Everywhere” project is being designed to protect existing video revenue. Rights are being acquired across the board for broadband, tablets and other mobile devices for a robust on-demand service. But live streaming is secondary.

Fido Joins Parade of Cell Phone Companies Ending Per-Second Billing

Phillip Dampier July 5, 2012 Bell (Canada), Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps, Editorial & Site News, Fido, Koodo, Rogers, Telus, Virgin Mobile (Canada), Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Fido Joins Parade of Cell Phone Companies Ending Per-Second Billing

Fido puts per-second billing into the doghouse.

Canada, home of the three-year mobile phone contract, “service access fees,” high activation fees, unlock phone fees, $10 for 10MB of data, and $8 extra for “caller-ID” has had one thing going for it that American cell phone companies don’t offer — per-second billing.

Not anymore.

Our regular reader Alex writes to inform us that Fido (owned by Rogers Communications) has joined the parade of Telus’ Koodo and Bell’s Virgin Mobile Canada eliminating the money-saving billing feature for all new activations starting yesterday.

These prepaid customers will now pay by minute when they start new service or change an existing plan.

Mobile Syrup reached out to Rogers and obtained official confirmation and their explanation:

“Fido will adopt the common billing practice in Canada: per-minute billing beginning July 4th. This means that calls are rounded up to the nearest minute. This change will apply to new customers signing up with Fido. All customers who are on current plans with per second billing will retain this feature unless they change their monthly plan. The majority of customers should not notice any impact to their monthly bills. Fido offers several great plans with various call, text and data allowances that are designed to meet any need.”

The billing change further discourages Canadian consumers looking for a better deal in the prepaid market. It is the best alternative available from the handful of national carriers that charge considerably higher prices tied to an extra-long service contract and expensive data pricing.

Maybe not

Alex notes per-second billing was one of the great advantages Telus’ Koodo offered, and other competitors were initially forced to match that innovative pricing.

“Koodo’s new plans are simply the old plans, but with a $5/month increase for two calling features,” Alex notes. “Koodo found another way to gouge their customers: per-minute billing. They also removed 50 minutes from the $30/month (previously $25) plan, which used to have 150 minutes. At a time when Internet is the main demand, while talk and text cost virtually nothing to provide, Koodo is gouging.”

Koodo, Fido, and the other carriers are probably noticing that cell phone customers are talking on their cellular phones less than ever, and per-second billing can save an average of 25% off per-minute billing, especially for short conversations.

Alex has a petition up on Koodo’s website asking them to reconsider, but we’re doubtful they will. Rogers’ is not well-known for responding to customer desires for better, more cost-effective service.

Telus’ Koodo Bills Mentally Disadvantaged Teen $8,243 in Texting Charges

Phillip Dampier May 8, 2012 Canada, Consumer News, Telus, Video, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Telus’ Koodo Bills Mentally Disadvantaged Teen $8,243 in Texting Charges

Maybe not

Telus Corporation’s no-contract cell phone subsidiary Koodo billed a mentally disadvantaged Vancouver-area teen $8,000 in “premium texting” charges it claims are supposed to be capped at $500 a month.

Nineteen year-old Brandon Kobza, born with fetal alcohol syndrome and other disabilities, found himself in the hole with Koodo after signing up for a text-dating service that costs up to $2 per message.

Kobza obtained his Koodo cell phone with the help of Ben Woodman, a Burnaby church youth worker, who ended up putting the phone in his name with the understanding there would be strict limits on the account.  Kobza earns just $900 a month, mostly from social welfare benefits for the physically and mentally challenged.

“I said, ‘You know I don’t want any data or extra charges’ and Koodo said, ‘We can block that.’ I made sure he had unlimited texts,” Woodman told CBC News. “I put a lot of faith in Koodo. I’m asking the representative ‘What can go wrong ? Can I get charged for anything else?’ And they said nothing about premium texts.”

Kobza learned about a text-based dating company from a friend who claimed it would allow him to meet girls, and one named “Katya” promptly began text flirting with him several times a day… at $2 a message.

Kobza never got to meet Katya, if she actually existed, but a month and half of virtual dating turned out to be mighty expensive.  By the time Woodman had the premium text messages cut off, Kobza had managed to exchange more than 4,100 text messages for $8,243.  The actual cost to Telus to deliver that number of text messages runs in the pennies.

The first of two Koodo bills

Woodman canceled the phone and requested a refund, but Koodo initially refused, offering an 80% discount instead.  But Koodo’s own policies are supposed to limit premium texting fees to $500 a month, in part to deal with the explosive number of complaints from customers about unjustified or misunderstood premium text charges.  In Kobza’s case, youtext.com apparently ignored Koodo’s rules for third party vendors and kept the charges coming.

After Woodman and Kobza got nowhere with Koodo, both decided to go public and contact CBC News, who promptly found the telecom “Pass the Buck ‘n Blame“-game in full force.

Koodo customer service representatives and kiosk employees both disassociated themselves with premium texting, claiming the cell phone company considers the vendors a nuisance because of complaints from customers. Representatives even denied Koodo takes a cut of the proceeds, which turned out to be untrue.  They referred customers back to youtext.com who promptly sends complainers back to the cell phone company.

The mysterious "Katya" Kobza paid $2 for every virtual text "date"

Premium texting charges are often unwittingly incurred by customers who enter their mobile number on unfamiliar websites or advertisements for things like dating services or “joke of the day” messages.  Only in the fine print, when disclosed, do consumers learn these texts can run several dollars each, and many only find out when the first bill arrives.

Youtext does send reminder text messages warning customers that charges are incurred for their services, but Woodman said Kobza simply didn’t comprehend what they meant.

Neither do many other Canadians, who file hundreds of complaints a year against premium texting services with the commissioner for complaints for telecom services.

Regulators say phone companies do earn a percentage of every premium text message billed, and with companies acting as both billing agent and collector, they have a vested interest in the profits reaped when customers pay their bills. That makes waivers for bill shock incidents more difficult than they should be, consumer advocates complain.

A Koodo spokesperson told CBC News the texting charges should have been forgiven immediately, and in full.  After CBC News got involved, the charges were removed from Woodman’s bill altogether.

Consumer advocates say Canadian cell phone companies should allow consumers to automatically block all premium text messaging services.  Currently, Rogers Communications is the only provider that uniformly provides this service.  Koodo says it is working on a premium text message blocker for its customers, and has been in touch with youtext.com regarding its violation of Koodo’s $500 limit on premium texting charges.

In the meantime, consumers should avoid entering their mobile numbers on websites for any advertised services, especially for ringtones, voicemail services, conference calling, dating, and “information services” automatically sent to your phone. Most of these services come at premium prices, billed by your cell phone company.

[flv width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Disabled teen incurs 8000 texting bill 5-7-12.flv[/flv]

CBC News in British Columbia intervened to help a mentally-disadvantaged teenager find a solution to more than $8,000 in texting charges that should have never been billed.  (2 minutes)

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