Cellphone use surges, so do bills. Canadians call for an end to data caps
OpenMedia wants Canadians to have unlimited mobile internet access for a good price
Our cellphones are so much more than phones these days. They've become a lifeline, the way we connect to everything from banking and breaking news to the loved ones in our lives.
So it likely comes as no surprise that wireless internet data usage continues to skyrocket in Canada, and that we're spending more to feed our habit.
"It just feels like I'm being ripped off every month," says Vancouver cellphone customer Jorge Amigo. He finds he's constantly paying extra because he often exceeds his plan's data limit.
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To ease the financial burden for Canadians, internet advocacy group OpenMedia is calling on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to kill data caps on wireless plans as well as home internet.
The group will make its case at an upcoming CRTC hearing on internet pricing.
OpenMedia has also launched an online petition to support its cause, which it says has 45,000 signatures and counting.
"We want uncapped, unlimited, affordable plans," says OpenMedia's Katy Anderson in Calgary.
Wireless surfing spike
Canadians' use of wireless data via their mobile network has spiked by a whopping 44 per cent in a single year from 2014 to 2015, according to a new CRTC report.
The report also shows that average monthly household bills for mobile services have surged — from $79 in 2013 to $83 in 2014. That's a five per cent increase, far above the rate of inflation.
The CRTC doesn't yet have 2015 data, but it's safe to assume consumer costs have climbed even further, in line with telco revenues.
The wireless retail market was worth $22.5 billion in 2015, a jump of 7.5 per cent from 2014, according to the CRTC report.
"In every aspect of your day-to-day life, you're finding that you're doing more of it online and doing it through a mobile phone," says Anderson.
She argues telcos need to offer Canadians unlimited data plans at a reasonable price. That way, people can surf freely without living in fear of overage charges that jack up the bill.
Customer Amigo says he pays about $100 a month for a Rogers plan with 3 GB of data. But because he uses his phone for most aspects of his life, he often pays the price for going over his limit.
He says his bill has climbed to as high as $250 a month. "It's annoying."
Amigo refuses to switch to a bigger data deal because, ideally, he wants to stick to his $100 a month budget. So he keeps promising himself that he'll rein it in.
But in a perfect world, he'd like to keep his costs down without having to censor his phone use.
"We're moving into a world where we're going to be using more multimedia and more data on our phones, not less."
Where to find unlimited plans
None of the big three Canadian telcos — Rogers, Bell and Telus — offer cellphone plans with unlimited data.
But in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where there's more competition, customers can get unlimited deals at what some would deem a reasonable price.
Regional provider Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) offers unlimited talk and data for $86.50 a month.
In Saskatchewan, SaskTel offers the same type of deal for $105 a month.
For both provincial plans, data speed slows down after a customer burns through 15 GB.
"It is amazing," reported SaskTel unlimited data customer Lindsay Gay last month. She got the plan when she moved this summer from London, Ont., to Strasbourg, Sask.
Gay recently dropped down to SaskTel's 13 GB plan, finding that's all the data she needs. She now pays $80 a month.
Gay says in Ontario she was paying about $75 a month for a phone plan with just 1 GB of data. "The data thing — it's insane how much they want to charge for data in Ontario compared to Saskatchewan."
The prairie deals may not last, however. Bell has agreed to buy MTS, subject to federal government approval. And the Saskatchewan government recently made noises about selling SaskTel.
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In other countries, unlimited data plans are becoming more popular. Some U.K. companies offer them, and in the U.S. two major wireless carriers — T-Mobile and Sprint — recently introduced unlimited everything plans for $70 and $60 US per month, respectively.
There are some caveats to both U.S. plans. For example, video streaming quality is limited to low resolution.
Just control your data
Open Media's Anderson claims the big three in Canada don't offer unlimited data deals because it's not as lucrative.
"Overage fees are a huge profit," she says.
That's not how Bell Canada sees it. "For many customers, the usage-based approach is by far the most economical option," said spokeswoman Caroline Audet in an email to CBC News.
She added that Bell provides customers with easy tools to manage their data use and that, as mandated by the CRTC, customers have to consent to overage charges exceeding $50.
Rogers says unlimited data plans would be detrimental to its customers. "The network capacity isn't there and it would weaken performance for everyone," said spokesman Andrew Garas in an email.
He also pointed out that Rogers recently introduced a new app tool that helps customers monitor their data usage.
But for Amigo, that's not the ultimate solution. Instead, he wants an affordable plan where he doesn't have to police his connection to the wireless world.
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