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!