Manitoba

Bell MTS customers see prices rise for most services

The company raised its prices on just about everything except wireless services, nearly six months after the merger between Bell and MTS earlier this year in a deal worth $3.9 billion.

Internet, TV and home phone rates increased in September

Bell MTS raised its prices on TV, internet and home phone services, nearly six months after the merger between Bell and MTS earlier this year in deal worth $3.9 billion. (Radio-Canada)

Bell MTS customers opening their bills this month found higher prices for internet, television and home phone services.

The company, which offers telecommunications services in Manitoba, raised its prices on everything except wireless services, nearly six months after the merger between Bell and MTS earlier this year in a deal worth $3.9 billion.

In September, the monthly cost of basic high-speed internet rose $3.95, TV charges rose $2.95 and the cost for home phone service rose $1.95.

"In order to maintain our quality of service and technological leadership our customers have come to expect, Bell MTS must adjust the costs we charge to the customer," a notice posted on the company's website said.

"Our costs to provide services have increased, so we've made some relatively modest adjustments to pricing on internet and other services. This is not a Manitoba-specific situation — providers across the country are faced with rising content costs, rapid growth in usage volumes and increased infrastructure costs," the company said in an emailed statement.

The price increases come one month after Shaw announced it was increasing internet prices by as much as $5, TV by as much as $3, and home phone by as much as $2.

When Bell and MTS merged, the number of telecommunications providers in the province fell from four to three.

Merger prompted price hike concerns

At the time the merger was announced, consumer advocacy groups worried about the possibility of price increases in Manitoba, which had lower prices than other jurisdictions as a result of the presence of four companies.

Saskatchewan is now the only province that has four carriers.

One of the groups that expressed concern at the time of the merger was the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

"This is exactly what our centre said to the competition bureau would happen when there was a reduction in competition in Manitoba," said John Lawford, executive director and general counsel for PIAC.

Lawford said the timing of the increase concerns him, because it comes before the time of year when cellphone companies typically increase their rates, usually in January.

"It indicates to me, Bell is now making up the ground between pricing that used to be in Manitoba and what it is in Ontario and other parts of the country where it's higher," he said.

In the past, Manitoba typically had prices that ranged from 25 per cent to 50 per cent cheaper than Ontario for internet, TV and home phone, Lawford said.

Although prices for services often increase year over year, the question remains how frequently and by how much prices rise, said Gloria Desorcy, executive director of the Consumers' Association of Canada's Manitoba division.

"It's early days and we are hoping that we will be able to maintain our kind of Manitoba edge on good prices. I can't really say if the increases we're seeing now are caused by costs increasing," she said.

The PIAC raised concerns about co-ordinated price increases during the Competition Bureau's nine-month review of the Bell MTS merger, Lawford said.

"That was the risk identified by the competition commissioner, in regards to wireless, when they did the merger approval. They said that there was a risk of co-ordinated pricing with the remaining players, but they didn't examine the other three markets which are these ones, which we thought was a mistake."

In its statement, Bell MTS says it is moving forward with a $1-billion capital investment plan to improve its network.

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