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British Columbians dismayed by, disconnected on phone costs

Depending on where they live and how they get to school or work, British Columbians deal with entities they love to hate.

Depending on where they live and how they get to school or work, British Columbians deal with entities they love to hate. Complaints about transportation are sure to flood social media when a ferry is cancelled, a bus does not arrive on time or a flight is delayed. Yet, in a curious twist, the cost of the devices that we use to register our displeasure throughout the world may also be making us angry.

The decade that is about to end brought added connectivity to Canada, in the form of more powerful mobile phones and a wide array of Wi-Fi zones in urban areas. Still, an experience that remains elusive to many consumers in the country is the simple concept of an inexpensive monthly mobile phone plan.

Research Co. asked British Columbians about this issue, and the results are not particularly encouraging. Across the province, seven in 10 mobile phone users (70%) describe the cost of their plans as “very expensive” or “moderately expensive,” while only 28% deem the price “moderately cheap” or “very cheap.”

Mobile phone users aged 35 to 54 are more likely to believe that the cost of connectivity in British Columbia is high (77%), compared to 70% of those aged 35 to 54 and 63% of those aged 55 and over. In any case, these are sizeable majorities of customers in all three age groups who seem dejected over how much they have to pay every month.

Canadians who have experienced life in other countries are keenly aware of the disparities in fees. A monthly plan for a mobile phone in Canada with two gigabytes of data currently costs about $75. Research Co. asked British Columbians if a similar plan would be more expensive, about the same or less expensive in three other countries.

More than three in five British Columbians (62%) believe a similar phone plan would be cheaper in the United States. And they are right, as Americans are paying the equivalent of $61 CAD – almost 20% less than in Canada. This level of awareness is not surprising. Many British Columbians travel to the United States (even for gas, as we found out earlier this month) and we have long been exposed to television advertisements from telecommunications companies that do not operate in Canada.

But if British Columbians really want to be dismayed, a look at what is occurring on other continents is warranted. Only 37% of British Columbians believe that a monthly plan for a mobile phone with two gigabytes of data would be less expensive in Australia than in Canada. In fact, Australians are paying a third of what Canadians dish out every month, at about $25 CAD.

A similar proportion of British Columbians (39%) assume that Italy has cheaper plans. A mobile phone with two gigabytes of data will set you back about $21 CAD in the European country – slightly cheaper than in Australia and 28% of what Canadians are currently paying.

Over the past few years, British Columbians have been subjected to many promises from politicians on this particular file. Before this year’s federal election, the Liberal Party of Canada campaigned on a pledge to reduce the cost of mobile phone and internet bills for Canadians.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even set a specific target: in four years, the cost of wireless services in Canada will be reduced by 25%. This would, conceivably, bring Canadian rates slightly below what Americans pay for mobile services, but nowhere near the extremely appealing monthly fees that Australians and Italians presently enjoy.

British Columbians, who rewarded the current federal government with a reduction of votes and seats, are not particularly convinced by this pledge. Only 31% of the province’s residents expect the current federal government to actually achieve the promise of cheaper connectivity, while a majority (58%) thinks it will “probably” or “definitely” not be fulfilled.

At the provincial level, the government of British Columbia recently appointed legislative assembly member Bob D’Eith to work with the federal government to explore more affordable and transparent mobile phone options.

The expectations are only slightly better for the provincial government’s course of action, with 35% of British Columbians thinking D’Eith’s appointment will be successful, and 50% believing it will not be.

British Columbians aged 18 to 34 are more likely to believe that the federal government and the provincial government will ultimately reduce the cost of wireless services (40% and 42%, respectively). In spite of the evident skepticism towards political action, the province’s youngest adults are extremely hopeful of change.

Results are based on an online study conducted from December 12 to December 16, 2019, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Mario Canseco is the president of Research Co.