Between October 17, 2012 and February 15, 2013, 2,859 Canadians visited OpenMedia.ca's website to submit their “cell phone horror stories.” Overall, respondents expressed frustration that Canadian wireless services are lagging behind other industrialized nations, both in terms of quality and price, even prompting some customers to take their business across the border and pay the fees for using an international service provider in Canada. The high level of frustration was clear from the energy many Canadians put into sharing their stories – one respondent even submitted a story that was fourteen pages long.2 A clear central issue emerges from these citizen stories: Canadians feel mistreated by cell phone providers who put excessive profits ahead of quality service.
Beyond the central issue of mistreatment, Canadians identified twelve specific problems in their stories. OpenMedia.ca's analysis categorized these twelve specific problems into three major themes: Disrespectful Customer Service, Restrictive Contracts, and Price-Gouging.
Stories that fell under the Disrespectful Customer Service theme underscored how customers' interests were sacrificed in the single-minded pursuit of service providers’ bottom line. One respondent shared the story of her son, who has Asperger’s Disorder and was persuaded by a telecom sales rep to sign a three-year contract he couldn’t possibly afford. Despite explaining that her son “didn't understand what he was signing and that he wasn't capable of understanding the consequences of the contract” the service provider refused to let him out of his contract, and forwarded the debt to a collection agency.3 Other citizens reported being treated poorly by sales representatives, often being repeatedly disconnected during a conversation, having to argue to correct billing errors, and in one case even being told to "shut up and pay the damn bill!”4
Those stories falling under the Restrictive Contracts theme focused on the unequal relationship promoted by contracts, with the customer being locked in while the service provider “had no binding commitment to actually provide me with usable services during that time”.5 Similarly these contracts were seen as excessively long, with many citizens commenting that “three-year contracts are appalling”6 and out of step with wireless options in many other countries.
Citizen stories falling under the Price-Gouging theme noted that, “[n]o matter how comprehensive your monthly plan is, it seems there's always something you do that is not covered by the plan and that costs you an arm and a leg”.7 They also commented that “Canada is allowing greedy telecoms to kill innovative technology”, as some of the latest apps being developed in other countries would cause customers to incur excessive charges in Canada.8
Canadians were clear that they expect policymakers to step in and empower customers to free themselves from this kind of poor service and the restrictions imposed by incumbent wireless providers. A full understanding of the lived realities of Canadians, as provided by the OpenMedia.ca study, is the first step to addressing the problems of a market dominated by powerful incumbents.
2. Citizen Submission, Batch 5, p. 273-286
3. Citizen submission, Batch 1, p. 273
4. Citizen submission, Batch 3, p. 60
5. Citizen submission, Batch 1, p. 156
6. Citizen submission, Batch 3, p. 437
7. Citizen submission, Batch 1, p. 25
8. Citizen submission, Batch 2, p. 356