Will my MTS services cost more under Bell? A look at plan prices Canada-wide

'Will my MTS service go up under Bell?': A look at plan prices Canada-wide

Cellphone packages in Manitoba among cheapest in Canada

(CBC News Graphics)

Manitobans pay some of the cheapest rates for wireless and internet services in all of Canada.

Gerry Wall is the president of Wall Communications. The CRTC hired the company to produce a wireless and internet services price-comparison study released in 2015.
It's unclear as to whether the sale of Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) to BCE (Bell Canada Enterprises) announced Monday will change that, but it hasn't stopped some people from worrying about price hikes they fear could be on the horizon.

As of 2015 in Winnipeg, people with cellphones paid $65.76 a month on average for 5 GB of data and unlimited Canada-wide talk and text plans, which are common across the country.

According to Gerry Wall, that makes Manitoba one of the most affordable places in Canada to own a cellphone.

"The best data that we have, most recently from 2015, has Manitoba at one of the lowest provinces in the country — anywhere from 15 to 40 per cent lower than the national average," Wall said.

"If you look across the four or five types of baskets that have been measured, Manitoba has performed extremely well."

Wall, who is the president of Wall Communications, was commissioned by the CRTC in 2015 to produce a price-comparison report of wireless and internet services in Canada.

Using those 5 GB plan parameters, the national average for a cellphone plan turned out to be $107.50.

Winnipeg came in second  place overall for low cellphone plan rates. Regina has the lowest prices in the land at $65.62 a month for the same kind of 5 GB plan.

Meanwhile consumers along the East and West Coast, as well as those in Toronto, shelled out between $117 and $122 on average for similar plans.

The low price points in places like Winnipeg and Regina have long been attributed to strong, competitive markets in the Prairie provinces causing companies like MTS to drive their prices down and fight to maintain their customers.

"[MTS] are the legacy company in Manitoba; they are worried about the big three [in] Telus, Rogers, Bell encroaching on their market share, so they have priced very aggressively," he said. "I think they've done a good job of it."

'This does enormous damage'

While most jurisdictions have about three service providers to choose from according to Wall, Ottawa-based digital communication expert Michael Geist said Manitobans have been lucky to have four options this long.

"In the hope of bringing in better competition into the wireless market in Canada and reducing some of the sky-high prices that Canadians face, a merger of this nature really does significant harm in one of the markets that highlighted the benefits of having real competition," Geist said.

"Invariably, the pricing is better in Manitoba, and so from a consumer perspective there's a loss. From a bigger picture perspective, this does enormous damage to the government strategy of a fourth carrier in all markets across Canada."

As for the sale of MTS to Bell from Wall's perspective, the move is in part a reflection of new technology-driven market realities and pressures to stay competitive in Manitoba.

"It's very hard to see MTS, to me, surviving as an independent — in fact, I have been expecting an acquisition of MTS for the last four or five years."

Prices to rise over long-term, Wall says

Despite fears to the contrary, Wall doesn't believe Bell will raise rates dramatically any time soon.

"If I'm Bell, I'm not going to increase those prices in the short-term: that's bad consumer relationship building," he said, adding in the long-term, Manitobans should probably prepare to see service prices inch up closer to rates Bell charges in other provinces.

The same Bell plan in Winnipeg that comes with 6 GB of data only comes with 5 GB in Toronto currently, Wall said.
George Cope, president and CEO of BCE Inc., said his company's acquisition of MTS will "bring scale to the province of Manitoba." (Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson)

"Bell [in] Toronto charges $105 [per] month for their unlimited talk-text with base plan with no smartphone. In Winnipeg, for the same plan, Bell charges $60 a month [right now]! I'd call that a huge difference," Wall said.

"Telus also charges a much lower price in Winnipeg than Toronto — $65 versus $95, although data allowance is only 4 GB."

The acquisition of MTS by Bell is expected to take between nine and 12 months, Bell president and CEO George Cope said. It is still subject to regulatory approval.