British Columbia·Analysis

Internet bill too high? Your Canadian politeness may be costing you

Many Canadians are loath to haggle to get a better deal, and that could be costing them hundreds of dollars a year.

Want to reduce your internet, TV and home phone bill? Pick up the phone and haggle

The cost of watching TV and downloading data keeps rising in Canada, but there is relief, for those brave enough to set aside their Canadian politeness and ask for a better deal. (Diego Cervo/Shutterstock)

It took me less than 20 minutes on the phone this past weekend to save hundreds of dollars on my internet, TV and phone bill.

That first line reads like email spam, but sadly, it's true. I'd been a loyal customer of one of Canada's major telecommunications companies for years, even though, like many, I'd been frustrated by bills that seemed to be growing larger by the month.

My latest three-year contract had expired in June, and I'd been meaning to call and see if I could negotiate a better deal. The inevitable transfers and hold times, and the prospect of having to uncomfortably barter with a call-centre employee always outweighed any benefit.

But the bills finally pushed me over the edge. I obtained a quote from a competing company and called my service provider. To my surprise, in mere minutes, my provider slashed my bill by more than 60 per cent for six months.

After that "promotional period," my bill would increase, but would still be more than 35 per cent cheaper than my current rate.

I was delighted. And then I was disturbed. How long had I been overpaying? I make uncomfortable phone calls for a living, and I hesitated — so how many others have been too polite, too loyal or too lazy to negotiate with their cable companies? Turns out, a lot.

Not alone

It's a huge issue across the country for customers of a variety of TV, phone and internet providers, says Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers' Association of Canada.

"We get two types of complaints," Cran says. "One is about the fact they are charging more money than other organizations, and the other is the fact that if you challenge them, substantial reductions are there to be had."

Cran tells those who complain, to call their providers, and ask for a discount.

"We tell them that obviously the name of the game is the squeaky wheels get the grease ... I know from people who call me back it seems to always work," he says.

But that raises the idea of a two-tiered consumer system. Those who ask, and receive a better rate — and those who never question their monthly bill, and pay a premium. 

"As an item of fairness, it really doesn't pass the smell test," says Cran.

Competition

It's the sort of thing non-profit Open Media fights against. One of its guiding principles is universal access to fast and affordable networks, and the group feels Canada's telecommunications bills are too high.

"One phone call to complain and my bill drops by over 50 per cent? What is the justification for these high prices," says Open Media campaigns manager Josh Tabish. "The reason that these giants feel they can charge so much is that most of the time they get away with it."

Groups like Open Media have long campaigned for increased competition in Canada's telecommunications market.

"Make sure that more providers can be selling services in the market so we can get prices down, because you know, we've been held hostage by these high prices long enough," says Tabish.

Generation Gap

But for now, the best weapon is actually a phone, and taking advantage of what competition there is, to call around for a best offer, and present that to your service provider.

It's something older Canadians are reluctant to do, says Cran — who refers to himself as a pre-boomer.

"I come from the old school, where you look after your repeat customers ... but that's not the case any more."

A sheepish Cran admits to paying hundreds per month for his phone, TV and internet access, from a company he says he has been with for 50 years. Despite urging others to call for a deal, he's never done so himself — something he can't explain.

"I don't know, I'm guilty. But look, I'll tell you what, I've made a resolution ... to attend to this before the new year."

It's a challenge other Canadians might want to consider, as a Christmas present to themselves.

About the Author

Steve Lus

CBC News Reporter

Steve Lus is a reporter with CBC News in Vancouver.

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