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A surprising amount of unrelated parties come together to saddle Canadians with the most expensive cellphone rates in the world. Jesse Brown wrote about it in a convincing piece in December’s Toronto Life (regrettably not available online yet). I love when my complaining is vindicated, not that it’s worth it.

Personally, my wireless bill is relatively small (though still a rip off) since I don’t even have a “smart” phone. Yes, my phone is portable, but it’s a moron. It doesn’t get internet.  I don’t have a full keyboard (it takes four presses to type “s”). I rarely talk because my day minutes are stingy (and so am I). I’m eager to end every conversations because a 1:01 conversation is 2 minutes, universal rounding be damned. I have no BBM, Email, or even ICQ. For accessing the system my phone requires I pay a fee, double-dipping in broad daylight: it’s like buying a hamburger then paying separately again for accessing it.  My cell phone plan is basically incoming calls (but don’t roam!) and cumbersome retrograde text messaging, but it costs me over $55 a month. Your phone is better so you pay a lot more than me, but in Canada all us hosers are getting hosed.

I’ll walk you through the article now.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development claims our roaming fees are the highest in the world.  According to another report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Canadians have the highest monthly wireless charges in the world. Worrying: American banks have never been wrong.  Even “academic sources” say our text messaging undergoes a mark up as high as 4,900%.  Have you ever heard anyone say 4,900%? This goes beyond an acceptable amount of exploitation. In another time and place we’d all be sweeping their chimneys for nickels.

The evil trifecta–Robbers, Bull, Telus (couldn’t think of an evil name for Telus, I welcome suggestions)–has 95% of the market. New carriers like Mobilicity and Wind have to buy a license from Ottawa for billions, incurring debt before they even spend a dime on marketing or infrastructure.  That’s why smaller companies like Fido get eaten up like dog food. Brown claims so called experts on the subject (lawyers, academics, consultants) are either employed by the three-headed monster or are somehow financially connected. Except one glorious man.

Hudson Janisch is a U of T professor emeritus of telecommunications law. His research was “instrumental” in writing the country’s telecommunications act. Even better, he’s 73 and semi-retired, so he’s got no vested interested in lying.  Janisch explains that banks are unwilling to lend money to new companies since their success will cut into that of the big three, who already make more money than any other providers in the world. Banks have no reason to finance new Canadian companies and our government hasn’t let foreign companies offer competition. “Canada is horribly out of step.”

Why is it so expensive? There’s no finite number of text messages that’s depleted every time someone sends a text. No mining company drills into the earth to extract minutes.  Once the infrastructure is up, costs flatten. Companies opt for the maximum gouge because they can. Shocking.

And expensive bills may not be the worst problem.  Our country is supposedly at risk of becoming “a communications backwater,” as only 75% of Canadians have a wireless plan. That seemed high to me, but apparently it’s the lowest of any comparable country, and what’s “comparable” might be surprising.  Internationally, there’s wonderful collaboration taking place between phone companies and forward thinking governments from all those burgeoning telecommunication hot spots in Africa and the Middle East. That’s why the guys who filmed Ghaddafi’s death have a better phone than me.

In the 80s, Ottawa enacted a policy designed to keep foreigners off our radios, and now we’re held captive to this severely outdated policy, which wasn’t designed with current technology in mind.  “It was a policy grandfathered in from traditional telephone regulations.” Normally, or at least ideally, stupid policies are corrected. The NHL made helmets mandatory since they realised not forcing NHL players to wear helmets was ridiculous and outdated.  When it comes to phone bills, Canadians have no choice but to be Craig Mactavish (the last NHL player to not wear a helmet…retired helmetless in 1997).

Also, and this comes out of left field, ACTRA, the actors’ union, is lobbying Ottawa to keep the foreign ownership restriction in place. Where have all the sagacious actors gone? ACTRA declined an interview with Toronto Life (they were all out adopting third-world children) but Brown points to the unions’ website which indicates they believe that if the wireless industry is opened up to foreign investors, we will “lose control of our culture” because “you can’t separate telecommunications and broadcasting.”  Their argument: if people watch TV on their smart phones, which are provided by foreigners, then foreigners control what we watch, and they can’t be trusted to create content that will employ our actors.  But smart phones aren’t seriously going to replace TVs.  Could the actors position be stupid and self-serving? Brown reminds us that Rogers and Bell produce/broadcast a large percentage of Canadian shows, and the union is probably just sucking up.

Our politicians are doing nothing. This problem won’t fix itself, as no company voluntarily decides to forego profit. Pitching a tent in a park is for problems that only affect 99%, but at 100%, this is major.  And it’s cold out.

Expect a strongly worded letter to come in this space. And unlike the civil writing here, the strongly worded letter to come won’t be based on research or facts, just my violent, unswerving hatred for these wireless robber barons.  Let us complain loudly…it’s about all we can do.