Meditations on programming, startups, and technology
New Relic

Cell Phone Cost Calculator Killed In Canada. Enough Is Enough!

Having been born and raised in Europe, I find the Canadian Telco sector appalling. In what is an otherwise outstanding country, the monopolistic tendencies and de facto cartels of the phone companies are screwing over Canadian residents, and there is very little being done to counteract this.

Recently Bell got its way again, and UBB (Usage Based Billing) was introduced regardless of what thousands upon thousands of taxpayers had to say about it. Countless complaints were forwarded to the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), and these were promptly disregarded.

On Slashdot today there’s a story entitled Cell Phone Cost Calculator Killed In Canada. Upon further inspection it’s revealed that cell phone carriers have successfully lobbied public officials to stop a taxpayer funded initiative that would publish an online cellphone cost calculator. (“OMG competition! Think of the shareholders!” As someone pointed out on Slashdot).

Stopping this service is a waste of our money, but more importantly, it clearly highlights the fear of transparency and competition that is typical of companies like Bell and Rogers. It shows the power that phone companies have over the government. And it demonstrates how elected officials like Tony Clement (Industry Minister) are far more concerned with the bottom line of public companies than the interest of Canadian citizens and residents alike.

This is outrageous. How can we fight back? For once, I’m a believer in voting with my dollars. I do not currently own a cell phone, and I surf the web on a (factual) 3 Mbps connection from TekSavvy, having switched from Rogers’ 10 Mbps plan more than a year ago.

The two are an impediment, because I need a cell phone and a fast Internet connection. But the lack of competition doesn’t leave you with many alternative options if you want to avoid giving your hard earned money to the types of carriers mentioned above. And in the case of the calculator, my tax money ended up being wasted to protect these companies’ obsolete pricing models.

The (always excellent) Michael Geist makes a worthwhile suggestion:

With public dollars having funded the mothballed project, the government should now consider releasing the calculator’s source code and enable other groups to pick up where the OCA (Office of Consumer Affairs) left off.

Today I registered MyPhoneBill.ca. Should they ever release the source code, I will host it and deploy it at this handy URL. After all, we’ve already paid for the code.

In truth, I don’t see this happening. An open source solution that companies and individuals could build upon would frighten cell phone carriers even more than a closed source project deployed by the government.

If they won’t open source the code of the cell phone cost calculator, as I suspect the case will be, I’ll take a stand. I’ll implement and offer the service myself at MyPhoneBill.ca (site not active yet).

Such a site may very well have a solid business model, and I’m not opposed to that idea. But that’s not the main reason why I’d create such a project. Canadians have the right to learn about what the most advantageous phone plan for their usage pattern is, without having to spend days on end doing research. And companies have no right whatsoever to prevent this from happening. Similar sites exist in almost every other industrialized country and cell phone companies usually collaborate with them.

Enough is enough!


If you enjoyed this post, then make sure you subscribe to my Newsletter and/or Feed.

receive my posts by email

16 Responses to “Cell Phone Cost Calculator Killed In Canada. Enough Is Enough!”

  1. I don’t know the exact nature of a tool like that, but it’s something that could be interesting in any market… Italy included. ;)

  2. Derek Martin says:

    I wholeheartedly agree, and I definitely think you could build a nice little business around that MyPhoneBill.ca, considering your passion for the topic.

  3. William Idsardi says:

    How about filing an “Access to Information Act” request for the source code?

  4. I wonder if that would be covered under the Access to Information Act. Not a bad idea though, William.

  5. Hello Antonio,

    That’s a very good idea. I had some ideas earlier about utilities cost. We can ask for information about your current invoice: minutes used, total minutes in the plan, total cost, etc.

    The raw data should not be stored, but instead aggregated by city / region / province / country. That would give us a good deal of data, and provide visibility in the process.

    I’m ready to contribute expertise to the project. Contact me by email and we can discuss participation.

    Bye!
    François

  6. Tom says:

    Antonio, sounds like we should have a chat. We operate the most powerful mobile phone comparison service in old europe (telfish.com). Could be an interesting cooperation.

  7. Serguei says:

    Yep, that’s exactly the state of affairs in Canada.

    What’s involved in building the service you have in mind?

    I happen to be a rails programmer with some free time on hands. If there is something I could code to help, please email me.

    Serguei

  8. Ben says:

    I’m from the UK and, like you, I was horrified by the state of the Canadian phone business.

    I’m a programmer with a grab bag of experience so if you want any more help drop me a line.

    Good luck and I hope you manage to make the telcos squirm!

  9. Paul Lambert says:

    Hi Antonio,

    Great post, I’m a longtime reader and you’ve really hit a nerve.

    Don’t wait to see if OCA releases their code – as you pointed out this probably won’t happen. Why not just start and lead a new implementation, now? I, for one, would love to contribute. By these comments it seems it I’m not alone.

  10. Allan Farrell says:

    Just found your post via Hacker News. I just purchased a newcell phone from Telus. Figuring out what company offered me the best deal took forever. I eventually went with a pay as you go plan out of frustration. I’m a web developer as well – mostly rails these days. I have time and energy for something like this if there is any way I can help.

  11. shelfoo says:

    Also a developer sick of the Canadian phone companies.

    If you want a hand, let me know.

    Cheers.

  12. Thank you for the encouragement, guys. I’m blown away by the positive response to the idea of MyPhoneBill.ca. I’ll post an update on this blog very soon.

  13. David says:

    Hi there, I’ve been working on a calculator for quite some time actually. It seems deceptively simple to setup at first, but I was astounded at how quickly the complexity snowballs. The question is, do you want to be comprehensive and really make a best effort for consumers, or just give a quick sampling? Then there’s the question of expectations. When you present such estimates, many expect not just the straight calculations for each plan, but to be presented with the optimal combination of options that result in the lowest monthly cost for each plan. And that is a difficult problem to solve.

    I have, in fact, already built such a calculator/optimizer: cellplanexpert.ca -its a free beta that covers most voice plans, voice related options & basic features. However txt and data is still being added. The data is also quite up to date.

    Two problems with the comprehensive approach though. With over 4000 plans (including term-length variations) published in Canada, not to mention the gazillion options on available on each plan, managing it all takes some slick software and a lot of work, especially as they changing all the time.

    The other problem is that to determine what options are best for a given person, we need quite a bit of information on their usage profile. This quickly becomes onerous for most people, so our solution is to make most of the profile questions optional. Our best efforts are based on yours, so to speak.

    Maybe give it a try! Let me know what you think. I’d love some feedback! Whether people care enough to spend a few $- enough to justify the time spent keeping the database up-to-date anyways- remains to be seen.

  14. Ben says:

    Yep we need to do something
    just compare the money we pay here in Canada with the money people in euro pay for the same services its embaressing for Canada .

  15. Ben A says:

    Guys I have been living in Europe doing university study, research and work for years and got shocked and felt disappointed when I arrived to Canada by communication costs. I am also Computer engineer and I would love to be a part of this and I will have some time to put into this.

  16. Veber says:

    @Folletto Malefico
    you already have a Cell Phone Cost Calculator in Italy!

Leave a Reply

I sincerely welcome and appreciate your comments, whether in agreement or dissenting with my article. However, trolling will not be tolerated. Comments are automatically closed 15 days after the publication of each article.

Copyright © 2005-2014 Antonio Cangiano. All rights reserved.