A new study of the rates Canadians pay for cellphone services commissioned by the CRTC and Industry Canada has yielded some surprising results, depicting a mixed picture of how Canada compares internationally.
“It is positive-looking internally in Canada—the prices are coming down. [But] when we look at Canada versus other countries we are still somewhat on the high side, especially when you look at the countries that we included for Europe,” said Bernie Lefebvre, vice-president at Wall Communication, which compiled the report.
Low-volume cellphone users saw a 16 percent increase in charges in the past year, paying $35.70 per month—substantially more compared to the U.S. at $30.34, U.K. $26.46, France $20.75, Australia $25.28, Germany $16.68, and Italy $10.85.
Overall, cellphone charges for average Canadian users were $45.26, while high-end users paid $80.
“There is a downward trend in rates, generally speaking, other than the low-level basket in this year’s study,” said Lefebvre. “The technology is improving and the costs should be declining.”
The advocacy group OpenMedia.ca noted that the charges are still abnormally high considering the report did not include some cheaper brands such as GiffGaff, a U.K. cellphone carrier.
If prices from the smaller carriers had been included, the group predicts the disparities would be even more pronounced.
“They are including the more affordable providers in Canada, like Wind and Mobilicity, but I noticed in the U.K. the more affordable providers didn’t make it in,” said David Christopher, communications manager of OpenMedia.ca.
“I also noticed the basic plan cost increased 16 percent in just the space of a year. That is something that we should be worried about because the people that go for the really basic tend to be disproportionately low-income Canadians.”
The report also examined the average charges for wired phone services, showing that Canada fared relatively well internationally at $54.37 per month. American users were billed $66.61, U.K. $42.81, France $49.72, Australia $67.13, and Italy $51.02. The report also examined broadband Internet rates, something the research firm admitted posed a challenge.
“It is a little more difficult to look at broadband. What is available in the market has changed quite a bit. We have four levels of broadband services and the levels are just defined by speed,” said Lefebvre.
Broadband Internet bills showed Canadians paid between $50 and $86.46 a month, comparatively better than U.S. charges of between $62 and $103.17. However, charges, globally tended to be cheaper than either country, with Germany the highest at $58.52, followed by Italy at $61.69, Japan $67.73,
Australia $70.33, France $55.98, and the U.K. $47.76.
“It’s shocking how much rural and northern Canadians pay for basic Internet service,” said Christopher.
“Australia faces similar geographic challenges (small population, huge country, population heavily urbanized) yet their rural residents pay less than half what northern Canadians do. And Australia is about to move even further ahead with the roll-out of their National Broadband Network.
“If they can do it, why can’t we?”
Kaven Baker-Voakes is a freelance reporter based in Ottawa.