U.S. wireless carrier lifts caps on data

Friday, August 19th, 2016

CRTC may feel pressure on plans

The Vancouver Sun

T-Mobile, the third-largest wireless carrier in the United States, is abolishing data caps to offer consumers one plan with unlimited data, talk and text, a self-proclaimed “industry-shaking move” that has Canadian wireless advocates looking longingly south of the border.

T-Mobile customers will pay US$70 per month — roughly $90 in Canadian funds — for unlimited everything for the first line, $50 for the second and $20 for up to eight additional lines as of Sept. 6, the company announced Thursday. Caveats on usage kick in when a customer uses more than 26 GB of data or streams high-definition video.

Meanwhile in Canada, customers get only about two GB of data for the same price as T-Mobile’s new plan if they bring their own phones and use Rogers, Bell or Telus. (This excludes residents of Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where prices are significantly lower.) Major providers charge consumers about five cents per megabyte (up to a maximum of $50 per month) for going over their allotted data usage. None of the Big Three wireless providers offers unlimited data plans. Manitoba Telecom Services, which Bell will acquire for $3.9 billion pending federal approval, is the only provider in the country to offer unlimited data plans, starting at $86.50 per month.

The U.S. has a vastly larger market and fierce competition among its four major providers. But Internet advocacy groups, such as Vancouver-based OpenMedia, are hopeful unlimited data plans could make their way to Canada if regulators react to mounting pressure from fed-up consumers.

“If they can do it down there, then we can surely do this up here,” said OpenMedia spokesman David Christopher. “I do think it will take the CRTC to step in … I don’t think the big telecoms out of the goodness of their heart are going to reveal unlimited data plans.”

OpenMedia will push for an end to data caps at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’ s fall public hearing on zero-rating and differential pricing, the practice of exempting certain usage from data caps. The tactic is picking up steam in Canada, with flanker brands such as Fido and Quebec’s regional carrier Vidéotron offering free music streaming with certain plans. Critics of differential pricing say the practice favours certain content when all data should be treated equally. Proponents call it a consumer perk that bolsters competition and argue a ban on data caps amounts to retail price regulation, which the CRTC does not do.

Ironically, T-Mobile has run afoul of open-Internet advocates in the past for zero-rating video and the Pokemon GO app. Even its new plan is getting flack for slowing down speeds from 4G LTE to 2G, known as throttling, when customers exceed 26 GB or tether their phones. (Nor do net neutrality fans like the fact that it’s a price jump for customers on the low end of service.) But former critics are praising T-Mobile for the move to a single unlimited plan. It indicates consumers don’t like sifting through complicated schemes to find a plan that suits them, Christopher said. Canadians have a wealth of choice when it comes to data plans. There are more than 100 different data options available for bring-your-own-phone plans with unlimited talk and text across all national brands. The glut of options swells when customers decide to purchase a phone at a variety of subsidized rates.

© 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.

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