The Politics of Phone Plans

Canada is in the dark ages when it comes to data plan prices 

Wen Zhai // Contributor 

One of the biggest culture shocks I’ve had when moving to Canada was during my search for a mobile service provider. When researching data plans, I noticed frustration surrounding the high cost of phone and internet packages. Each company representative assured me they provided the most reasonable options, but I felt like I was in a time machine. Why are phone plans so expensive? I thought Canada was a developed country. 

In July, the Canadian government announced that ‘the big 3’—Bell, TELUS and Rogers—will be expected to lower their prices by 25 per cent in the next two years, but only for plans ranging from 2 to 6 GB of data. I may not be an expert on the Canadian telecom industry, but this is an interesting decision. Who is the audience for these price cuts, and why were they chosen over other groups? 

In China, I wasn’t worried about using data because I had never exceeded the limit each month. Now, I can barely afford smaller service plans anyways. I can no longer stream videos, lectures or shop online when waiting for the bus or on the go.  

That was before the pandemic. When we started online classes, changing my phone plan was among the first few things that I did to adjust to the foreseeable financial hardship—but the cheapest plan wasn’t cheap at all. Why has nothing changed? 

According to a 2016 FCC study that looked at the costs and speed of mobile data across 28 countries, streaming an hour of video in Canada cost $16.48 CAD—the most expensive on the list—but only $0.56 CAD to stream the same amount in Italy. Maintaining expensive data packages is a sure way to see instant revenue. Government policies account for up to 16 percent of the cost.  

With the public’s increasing reliance on mobile data, it’s only fair to demand that Ottawa provides the rationale behind reducing the cost of medium-sized plans. The Canadian government needs to understand that the financial pressure Canadians have been under due to the pandemic is only increased by high phone plan prices. 

While the announcement seemed helpful at first glance, a 25 per cent decrease for medium-sized plans does nothing for consumer concerns—especially when affected plans will likely be discontinued by the time this policy is in effect. This form of ‘aid’ is lost on consumers that heavily rely on large data packages. At a time when online activities are at a high, Canadians need support reflective of the times—not misleading information. 

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