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Canada Has Some of the Most Expensive Data In the World, and That’s Not OK

The CRTC reviews the Wireless Code starting Monday.

The monthly rationing of mobile data, which usually means turning off Google Maps and guessing your way to your next coffee for a week, is about as Canadian as hockey and being in denial about racism.

This is because Canada has some of the most expensive and restrictive data plans in the world, as has been documented again and again. Pair this regularly occurring frustration with the knowledge that the country's mobile industry is dominated by an oligarchy made up of three major providers—Bell Canada, Telus, and Rogers—and you've got yourself some angry hosers there b'ye.


Starting Monday, in an effort to mitigate "sticker shock" when the phone bill comes in, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is reviewing its Wireless Code for providers. This code of conduct requires companies to give customers a copy of their contract, notify users when they've reached a certain amount of overage fees, ensure that providers unlock devices or provide folks with the means to do so, and more.

Read More: Rural Canadians Want the Government to Fix Their Shitty Internet, Survey Says

This review and accompanying public consultation is much-needed, because a "mystery shopper" experiment by a team of Canadian lawyers and submitted to the CRTC revealed that out of six providers (including the big three), almost none of them complied with the requirements set out in the Code.

What the Code doesn't cover, however, and what critics like Open Media told the CBC the CRTC should be focusing on, is the price of data in Canada in the first place.

"The most expensive mobile data countries are Canada, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic and the Netherlands and—as a consequence—mobile users in these countries are using very little mobile data," a 2016 report by telecom research firm Tefficient stated. The providers in these countries, including Canada, also have the highest revenues per gigabyte of mobile data.

Home internet prices here are some of the highest in the world, and citizens are famously unhappy with it. This has led some folks to try out creative solutions, like linking hardware together to form a local network. The CRTC has made strides in this area, however, mandating that large companies must share super-fast fiber infrastructure with smaller competitors and provide an unlimited data option for customers.

Despite progress in this area—and, it's worth noting, cable TV—mobile data has been unaddressed, leaving many Canadians to treat their monthly data allowance like the last can of caviar in a luxury fallout shelter. At the very least, the CRTC may decide to crack down on providers fulfilling even the basic requirements set out in the Code right now.

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