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Muy Caro! Canada's costly connection

For Canadian consumers, Price is far from Right on mobile and wireless service. Why?

Hola amigos! This week's Price is Right comes to you from the Mexican Riviera – the land of sun, warm ocean water and…affordable wireless services?

Muy caro, or “very expensive,” describes Canada's wireless costs. The question is why.

Wireless prices in our "Home and Native Land" are among the highest in the world. The ongoing debate is whether those prices are related to our low population and vast geography...or are we just getting ripped off because of a lack of competition?

"Because they can get away with it," growls Bruce Cran, the Vancouver-based President of the Consumers Association of Canada.

"Politically, governments seem to put their finger in the puddle every now and again...but none of them seem very interested to commit to achieve anything," he sighs.

As a frequent visitor to Mexico, I have personal experience with the frustration being expressed by consumer groups in Canada. In our own condominium in Manzanillo, we have a tiny wireless modem purchased from Telcel for about $135 Canadian.

Bob's Telcel modem

This little number – which according to Cran is nowhere to be found in Canada – simply plugs into a power outlet, and for approximately $25 Canadian per month, we enjoy high speed internet.

Adding to consumer complaints about high wireless rates in Canada, while a recent report from the Montreal Economic Institute, a pro-free-market think-tank defends Canada's highs cell phone charges citing a small population and difficult geographical barriers, other studies are quick to counter that explanation.

A recent report commissioned by the federal government found that Australia's monthly prices are also sharply lower than Canada despite similar obstacles.

So what’s the answer?

"Without question, we need consumers to demand Ottawa allow more outside competition," says Cran, urging Canadians to speak out and let their MP know exactly how they feel.

In 2017, Canada’s big three of Bell, Rogers and Telus took 92% of all mobile service revenue in Canada.

Further underscoring the argument that Canadians are being hosed is another Mexican example. In 2015, new laws came into effect reforming Mexico's landline telephone charges. Sharply lower landline costs quickly led to a domino effect in the country's cell phone business.

Unlike Canada, Mexican consumers (and tourists) can purchase a plan for a modest monthly fee, providing unlimited calling and SMS messages to all phones across Mexico, United States and Canada. Furthermore, you can also use the mobile data included in your plan across all three countries without any data roaming costs.

Bruce Cran, growling about wireless fees

Oh, and just to add a little more salt in our Canadian wireless wounds, Mexico's "unlimited" deals are also available on pay-as-you-go monthly plans with no need to sign a long-term contract.

By way of example: AT&T, Telcel, Movistar and Virgin Mobile offer month-to-month plans for 200 pesos (C$14) that includes unlimited call minutes and SMS message across North America and at least 500 MB of data.

Back in Vancouver at Cran's office, the frustration just keeps building.

"The politicians don't seem to have any interest in rectifying the situation," he laments.

"The poor old consumer in Canada is the one paying the price."

As always, I encourage your feedback on twitter: @kammornanchor 

Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.