Fact vs. fromage: mythbusting Canada’s wireless industry

CheeseWould you believe me if I told you the moon was made of green cheese? Probably not.

What if I told you that Canada has the highest wireless prices in the world? That sounds more believable, right?

Of course it does. That’s because you’ve heard it many times in rhetoric about Canada’s wireless industry. It’s been repeated so many times that it’s often cited as an irrefutable fact.

Just yesterday, I watched a reporter with one of our national broadcasters say it as plainly as that during a story about the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction. No attribution, no source and no attempt to give proper credibility to the notion that the moon is made of green cheese. It just is.

Now call me old fashioned, but here’s the problem: it’s not true.

While the Discovery Channel’s Jamie and Adam haven’t weighed in to bust this myth yet, we did get a solid analysis the other day from Jeff Fan. Jeff – an equity research analyst with Scotia Capital – recently published a report called Canadian Wireless Myths and Facts, where he dispels some of the most common myths about Canada’s wireless industry and counters them with cold hard facts Mark Goldberg does a neat job of summarizing the report in a series of tweets captured on his blog here.

First and foremost, Jeff refutes the myth that “Canadian wireless prices are more expensive than the U.S.” When comparing plans from TELUS, Rogers, Bell, Virgin, Fido and Koodo, Jeff finds that similar plans from Verizon and AT&T are in fact 21% to 23% more expensive. He goes on to tackle topics like three-year contracts, wireless competition in Canada and Canadian carrier profitability.

Although his comparison is Canada versus the U.S. in scope, his findings support those of other pieces of substantive research.

  • In 2010, the CRTC Communications Monitoring Report found average users (450 minutes a month) pay less in Canada than in the U.S. and France, but more than in the U.K., Australia, and Japan. Heavy users (1,200 minutes) pay less in Canada than in the U.S., France, and Japan, more than in the U.K. and Australia.
  • In 2011, Nordicity prepared a report (full disclosure: on our behalf) and confirmed that Canadian wireless providers charge rates below the international average, despite serving one of the least-densely subscribed networks in the world.
  • Also in 2011, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a report that found Canada was about average for pricing; lower than some countries, higher than others. Guess how often this report gets cited in the public discussion about the Canadian wireless industry compared to the conclusions of an older, outdated OECD report which painted a more sensational picture? If you guessed never you’d be about right.

All of this seems like pretty good going when you’re stacked up against countries with far denser populations that are much less expensive to connect. Or when you consider how much more advanced our deployment of 4G LTE wireless technology is compared to the rest of the world, including Europe. Canadians enjoy broad access to the world’s best and fastest wireless technology.

Now I’ve been in this industry and with TELUS for 13 years. I love it, but I’m the first to admit that our company isn’t perfect – far from it. But we’ve been working hard and have made a lot of changes over the past few years when it comes to introducing friendlier customer policies and improved service for our customers.

The most recent Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) annual report tells us that we’re on the right track. While complaints for the overall industry went up 35 per cent, complaints about TELUS were down 13 per cent.

Additionally, have a look at the document advocacy group OpenMedia filed in the CRTC wireless code of conduct hearings. Among those consumers who responded to OpenMedia’s online “cell phone horror story” campaign, TELUS was the subject of proportionately much fewer complaints per customer than our competitors among those who named their service provider. TELUS owned brands were the subject of only 18.90 per cent of complaints, while Bell’s brands were the subject of 31.74 per cent and Rogers 47.88 per cent.

If you’re interested in learning more about the facts and other perspectives on Canada’s wireless industry and TELUS, I encourage you to read Nordicity’s Report, the CCTS annual report and CIPPIC/OpenMedia’s CRTC filing.

Or, you can just take my word that the moon isn’t made of green cheese after all.