Getting connected online is becoming more costly for some Canadians. Bell, Rogers and Telus are all hiking rates for select home internet plans this year.
"Here we go again — they've got their hand in my pocket," says Toronto Bell customer Larry McLean about his latest price increase. "We're paying too much."
The hikes come on the heels of a CRTC ruling declaring broadband internet a basic and vital service that all Canadians should be able to access.
Still, it's not all doom and gloom for price-sensitive cyber surfers. In a surprise move, some smaller internet providers have actually lowered their prices this year.
"It was a nice little treat," says Brian Putman from Owen Sound, Ont. He subscribes to small telecom, Start.ca, and recently learned his internet bill would drop by $10 a month.
'It all adds up'
Bell kicked off internet rate hikes in February, upping most plans by $5 a month in both Ontario and Quebec.
"It all adds up," says customer, McLean who also got hit with a $3 a month hike for his Bell TV service. "You're paying a lot more money."
In an email statement earlier this year, Bell spokesperson Caroline Audet linked the price increases to Bell's infrastructure investments.
"Bell invests more than any other communications company to deliver the best broadband networks for our customers," she said.
Rogers has also hiked both internet and cable prices by $5 a month each for older, legacy plan customers.
"We work to balance our prices with investments and enhancements in our networks and services to deliver the best customer experience," said Rogers spokesperson Sarah Schmidt in an email. She added that this includes investments in improved internet service.
Telus will be increasing prices by $3 a month for four different home internet plans come July. The telecom said the hike will only affect a small number of customers.
Surprise! We're charging less
Canadians have come to expect endless telecom price hikes. So customer Putman was caught off guard when his provider, Start.ca informed him that his monthly internet bill would drop from $80 to $70.
"It just came out of the blue," he says. "Whenever I pay less for anything, I'm always very excited."
The reductions were prompted by an October ruling from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Canada's telecom regulator decreed that major providers were charging smaller competitors too much for wholesale access to their networks.
That meant the big incumbent telecoms had to lower their fees charged to third party providers. And some of those providers decided to pass on the savings to customers.
"We were granted a little bit of a reprieve from a cost perspective," says Gayle Padvaiskas, Distributel's vice president of marketing.
She added that the company had actually planned to hike fees this year. Because of the CRTC ruling, however, Distributel instead says it dropped prices anywhere from 10 to 38 per cent on many home internet plans.
"We were actually able to change our strategy on a dime," says Padvaiskas, who is based in Montreal.
A basic internet package?
As for internet price hikes, critics say it's ironic timing. That's because in December, the CRTC ruled that high speed internet is a basic telecom service that all Canadians are entitled to.
Previously, only local landline telephone service was deemed "basic" or essential by the commission.
Vancouver-based internet advocacy group Open Media contends that if internet service is to be accessible to everyone, prices must be kept in check.
"This goes counter to what we had seen the CRTC really trying to implement," says Open Media spokesperson Meghan Sali about the price hikes.
A 2016 CRTC survey found that 11 per cent of respondents had no home internet service and many people who are connected still struggle with the cost.
A 2016 CRTC-commissioned report also found that Canada ranked near the top of G7 countries and Australia for the priciest high speed home internet plans.
The commission has not intervened directly to make internet access cheaper, leaving that up to market forces for now.
Sali believes that must change and that the CRTC will eventually have to play a role in pricing. "It's the last critical piece of the puzzle," she says.
The commission has consistently said that it doesn't meddle in telecom rates. However, it did mandate a basic $25 TV package last year.
Open Media wants the CRTC to also mandate a cheap basic, high speed internet package for customers.
"It seems like a no-brainer," says Sali. "We saw that kind of bold action from the CRTC on television packages, and that hasn't even been ruled a basic service."
Both Bell and Rogers currently offer a light-use home internet package for around $30 a month.