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More questions than answers when it comes to Canadian wireless pricing

Wind Mobile phones are on display at the first Wind store to open at 207 Queen's Quay West in Toronto.

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

I'm a journalist. I ask questions. I leave conclusions to others because conclusions for a journalist are dangerous; they imply a lack of curiosity and do a disservice to people who read my writing in The Globe and Mail and on this website.

That's not to say my reporting isn't informed by facts I've learned along the way, nor to say I don't have suspicions and opinions about the things I write ( or tweet). That said, these are a smattering of important questions that are constantly being asked about the Canadian telecommunications industry, and which were asked anew over the weekend and this morning in the wake of yet another report pointing out the high price of Canadian wireless service.

That said, doing what I do and avoiding what I don't do, I'll ask two sets of questions. I'll leave the conclusions for the comments section.

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Do Canadians really pay the highest wireless rates in the world, or one of the highest? Are the comparisons apples-to-apples? Do Europeans have three SIM cards for one phone, and switch around to get the best of multiple worlds (while lowering calculations of how much each person pays)? Do Canadians jump on expensive plans with only 250 minutes, but then speak all they want after 6 p.m. on unlimited evenings and weekends plans? Do advanced European wireless networks cover only an infinitesimal footprint, while Canadian ones are hulking North American giants erected over a vast country? Do the price surveys account for new wireless competitors and so-called flanker brands (like Rogers' Chatr), that only recently launched? Is the service here, for all we complain about it, better than in other countries?


Do Canadians really pay the highest wireless rates in the world, or one of the highest? Are Canadian wireless prices this high because of severely restricted competition, which was only recently loosened? Is the "innovation" factor and competitive pricing lacking here because Canadian telcos do not compete internationally like Vodafone or France Telecom's Orange? Are the elimination of system access fees and the lowering of pricing plans something wireless giants like Bell, Telus and Rogers would have done without preparing to meet new competitors? Are new unlimited talk-and-text brands like Chatr (from Rogers) or Bell's newly made-unlimited Solo Mobile strategic choices they would have done without Wind Mobile -- especially since the price plans and market presence of the new unlimited flanker brands are basically identical to Wind's? Is Telus's new unlimited plan, which is only available in Quebec (and which Telus CEO Darren Entwistle told me was a response to Videotron's new wireless network), slightly unfair to Telus customers who live outside of Quebec? Are big companies not being genuine -- or, at worst, lying -- about the how's and why's of wireless service and networks in this country?

These are hard questions to answer. Part of the problem is that pricing changes all the time, varies among and within companies and is highly dependent on a variety of factors (like your location, how long you've been with the provider, and how many services you get). By the time a report comes out, the pricing and industry has changed. Also, whenever a report comes out, there's a lot of noise from those bemoaning the technical inaccuracies (usually telecom industry people, or people who work at these companies) and those arguing that critics of the reports are missing the forest for a few trees. Here are some links with different perspectives:

Here's Mark Goldberg, a telecom industry consultant, writing about the issue.

I tried to tackle the issue of our national collective hatred for telecommunications companies (with the exception, somehow, of poor Nortel).

Here's an article about a telecom consultancy's report on Canadian cellphone contracts (with a quote from a Telus spokesperson that he later admitted was inaccurate, since not "all" of the companies plans are available without contracts).

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Here's Telus CEO Darren Entwistle's speech (from last week) to the Canadian Club of Toronto,

The Globe's Simon Avery and Karim Bardeesy wrote about a 2009 OECD study.

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