Friday, October 17, 2014

An Open Letter to Canadian Internet Service Providers

Dear Internet Service Providers (ISPs),

I'm going to attempt to remain as calm as possible throughout this letter, but honestly we've all had enough of your ridiculous policies and price gouging.

I've written and talked about this problem many times before, and 5+ years of crazy and punitive changes to your wireless and home internet packages has left me shaking my head in disappointment at your terrible treatment of your poor customers who don't know any better.

A little about me, I'm not really what anybody would call a "heavy" data user, I just enjoy using technology to its maximum potential in my everyday life. I take pictures and video with my camera phone pretty much every day. I watch shows like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report 4 days a week on my morning and afternoon bus commute. I pay Apple for the privilege of streaming a reasonable amount of music in my iTunes library to my cell phone, tablet and laptop. I also listen to podcasts, 1-2 per day, that have to be downloaded. I download apps too, but certainly not a crazy amount. That being said, ALL of your data calculators are completely unable to accurately predict my wireless data usage, coming in anywhere from 5 GB to 12 GB a month (usually I max out the meter).
I'm also pretty technically savvy, and use social media. This means that I back up the photos and videos I take to Dropbox and Google Photos, I check Twitter, Facebook and Google+ a normal amount, and man a few social accounts for projects I'm working on or involved in.

I am certainly an advanced mobile user, but I don't think my Internet usage should really fall too far outside the mainstream if not for your outrageous mobile service plans which gouge customers like me who simply want to connect to the internet at its full potential.

Here is a breakdown of my mobile phone usage for September 10 - October 9 (this is now a seemingly typical month):

Minutes used: 33:41 mm:ss
Messages sent: 39 msgs
Data consumed: 35.91 GB

I recently renewed my plan which I originally got in 2008 which I have been clinging to for dear life, which includes 150 anytime minutes (unlimited eve/wknd), unlimited SMS messages to North American numbers, and what was at the time called "Unlimited Mobile Browsing". At the time, this was a $5 add-on with my new Sony Ericsson flip phone. I LOVED that phone. Since signing up for this plan, I have moved to a smartphone, and renewed the plan this summer while getting a Nexus 5 for about $60 after rebates.

Now, for people reading this who aren't familiar with my story, you would probably expect that I'm probably paying a lot of money for my plan that can get me 36 GB of data. Using that much data on even the most generous Rogers data plan would cost you well over $300. But in 2008, my plan cost me only $40 (+ 13% HST) per month, and that's how much I'm paying today. I do the math every 6 months or so and no matter how you slice it, it is worth keeping this plan and buying new phones outright than to switch to a punitive new plan and suffer through curbing what isn't really extraneous mobile data usage.

Companies like you (Rogers, Bell and Telus) have bought up or created smaller brands to attempt to appeal to customers trying to save money, but all you really do to those customers is give them even less than your major brands will give them. Koodo, Solo, Chatr, Fido, Virgin, etc., are no better deals than your major brands when it comes to the tiny amounts of data they get. Even if you buy a plan from Rogers with 30 GB of data (designed allegedly to be shared between a large number of phones/people), that still isn't enough data for one person with my non-excessive browsing habits.

Good old 2007!
I accept that I may be in a particularly unique situation with my high data use in 2014, but this is the way things are going with the internet. We need to be able to transfer data quickly and efficiently on mobile networks. And it's not like I'm not suffering consequences of being on a grandfathered plan from when the iPhone was a new product running on the EDGE network. I don't have visual voicemail, which is standard on the new plans. I don't have access to LTE data, and my upload speed is throttled particularly harshly (I'm not sure if my download speed is throttled, but it's about an order of magnitude faster than the upload). I can't tether my tablet or laptop to my phone's internet connection unless I jailbreak my phone, and I prefer to keep my software up to date than to jailbreak these days.

These policies and tiny data caps are not unique to cellular carriers and networks. DSL, Cable and Fiber internet customers also suffer through some extremely stingy plans. The plan I have been on for the last few months for Cable Internet is fairly expensive, but at least it comes with unlimited data transfer. Before that, for 6 months I suffered through a new cable and internet package that included 150 GB of data per month. That was torture, as I like to download beta software, music, and other media, and my fiance and I love Netflix and basically any other service that means we don't have to sit down in front of our TV on the hour to watch whatever show happens to be on. I was tiptoeing around to keep under the 150 GB cap for 6 whole months, and it was painful.

Right now, you might be thinking "Boohoo, you get what you pay for", and that I shouldn't be complaining about something that's cheap. I understand why you might say that, and I've always been very open about the fact that if I'm getting something worthwhile, I would be more than happy to pay a premium for that.

However, as is evident in the mobile space, and to a lesser extent in the home internet world, data rates (especially for overages) are completely outrageous and not what any normal person would consider reasonable. Even if we pretend that I'm going to pay for Rogers' 30 GB plan on mobile (which is $250 a month), that's not enough data for my typical needs. Beyond the data usage of any mobile data plan, additional data costs $10-15 dollars extra per GB. It has been calculated that the highest estimated cost to an internet provider for a GB of data transfer is about $0.08. In the home internet world, costs are even lower than that, but you can still expect to pay anywhere from $1-5 per GB for overages. This, plain and simple, is price gouging. 

Now, I hear your customers reading this shouting "Why don't you just go to Wind, or Mobilicity?" I understand where those people are coming from. To put it simply, I have tried Wind, and though their service is fairly good, the internet is slower than what I would be getting on the Rogers network even on 3G, and if I end up outside their coverage zone, rates skyrocket to as high as $50 a GB, or basically what any customer who is using pay-as-you-go data on Rogers would be using. It also doesn't save me money from my current plan, but if something ever happens to that plan, I would be going to Wind in a heartbeat.

I know that a lack of competition is what is stopping you from lowering your prices. I know this because there are examples all over Canada of people competing with you in small markets, and you have lowered your prices or changed pricing structures in those areas. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, for instance, you offer very cheap plans with 5 or 10 GB to match the offerings of provincial carriers like MTS and Sasktel. In Ontario, when companies like Teksavvy started buying bandwidth from you in bulk and reselling it at lower cost, you made a plan that you don't advertise publicly except to TekSavvy customers. The plan very closely resembles the standard TekSavvy plan, and you can make offers like 6 months free on a 2 year contract to sweeten the deal and keep little guys out of the market.

Never mind the fact that you 100% pay your Rogers technicians more for service calls to Rogers customers than for TekSavvy service calls, which mean that TekSavvy customers end up waiting days or weeks for technicians who are prioritizing Rogers accounts. That is a conflict of interest if I have ever seen one. If somebody gets fed up with this seemingly bad service from TekSavvy, they can call Rogers, get the same tech out the next day to set up their Rogers internet, and pay more for it. This process is absolutely criminal and I can't believe the CRTC lets you get away with it year after year.

Please, please, PLEASE change your business practises. I am one of 35+ million Canadians who is fed up with the current state of internet service in Canada. I want to buy mobile and home internet from you Rogers, Bell and Telus. I just want to pay a fair price for the data I use, let you take home some profit, and call it a day. That's all any of us want. But what you're doing to your loyal customers simply won't last, and I implore you to give the people who love the work you do pushing internet technologies forward what they want. Plans with more data. Doubling the prices of your plans and offering unlimited minutes across Canada and unlimited SMS is not what customers want, as research has shown over and over again in the last few years. Run a legitimate business, that's all I'm asking.

Thank you,