CRTC Low Cost Data Only Plans: “Much Ado About Nothing”

The proposed lower-cost data plans outlined in the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission decision from today are unlikely to be used and will not help provide more affordable options to Canadians. None of the proposed plans exceed 1 GB of data and only Rogers’ plans offer a voice and text allowance in addition to data for the price of $30. In effect, today’s decision was: “Much ado about nothing.”

If affordable and useful wireless service options are going to be made available to consumers, more competition is going to need to be introduced into the wireless market, not semi-cajoled, likely largely unused plans like those approved today. The best way to facilitate more competition in wireless would be to allow mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) access. That is, reselling of wireless service by new companies that obtain wholesale access to existing wireless networks.

The CRTC launched this consultation on lower-cost data only plans in March as a stop-gap measure after the Commission made a number of determinations regarding wholesale roaming charges by Bell, TELUS and Rogers in Telecom Decision 2017-56 that effectively delayed any meaningful MVNO access in Canada. The Governor in Council sent that decision back for reconsideration by the Commission, expressing concerns regarding choice of innovative and affordable mobile wireless services on offer from those national carriers, particularly for Canadians with low household incomes.  Read: the government wanted the CRTC to move towards MVNOs sooner than later.

Unfortunately, CRTC chose delay on this file by issuing Telecom Decision 2018-97 which re-confirmed its refusal to consider even an indirect route to the real issue of MVNO access. The result was the process that led to the CRTC’s decision of today. In it, the CRTC has approved the suggested “data-only” plans of the national wireless providers.  They have committed to offering lower-cost data-only plans which range from $15 for only 250 MB of data (yes, you read that right: 250 megabytes, not gigabytes) to $30 for only 1 GB of data. There was no reasoning given by the CRTC or the companies for these proposed prices.  But that is because the CRTC did not think the public should see these costs.

Without unlimited data or lower prices for capped data, these “low-cost data only plans” will not help Canadians with low household incomes afford wireless services because they actually are not useful and affordable. They will remain largely unused while Canadians again wait for the CRTC to reconsider wireless services (and MVNOs) in a large upcoming proceeding (and largely avoid discussions of high wireless prices meantime).

Sorry, not much ado about nothing. A comedy of errors.

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