Rogers is raising the price to call the U.S. without a long-distance plan to $1 per minute as of today, the latest instance of the slow creep of higher telecom costs.
Rogers advised its customers of the increase via its website recently, noting that the price to call the U.S. would rise from 55 cents per minute to $1 as of April 19.
There are many ways to avoid the charge, as Rogers offers a myriad of add-ons and plans that either include unlimited calling to the U.S. for a flat monthly fee, or value packs that bring the per-minute cost down to as little as five cents per minute. A spokesperson for Rogers told CBC News that for $7 a month, customers can slash the per-minute cost to more than 100 countries, and for $15 a month, they can get unlimited calling to the U.S.
But $1 a minute is now the charge for anyone who doesn’t opt for one of those plans. While it is a dramatic jump, it isn’t out of line with what Canada’s other major telecom providers charge for the same service.
Bell charges 75 cents per minute to call the U.S. for those without a plan, and a company spokesperson told CBC News that rate has not changed recently, nor are there plans to change it. Telus charges 80 cents per minute for its U.S. calls, with the company also saying it has no plans to change its domestic, U.S. or international calling rates right now.
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Laura Tribe, executive director of consumer advocacy group OpenMedia, said it was “frustrating” to learn about the fee increase, mostly because those types of fees are likely to disproportionately impact people who can least afford them.
“People that don’t have unlimited long-distance calling is probably a fraction of their subscriber base,” she said in an interview. “But when you look at the reason people are on those plans, they probably need the plans they’re on.”
The move seems designed to push people into signing up for an add-on to increase their monthly bill, Tribe said, to avoid the prospect of being accidentally dinged by a fee when they make an unexpected call. But in the process, people who don’t need those plans are getting unfairly targeted.
“It’s really putting a disproportionate financial penalty on those who are actually the lowest-use users or subscribers for not being power users.”
Tribe said nickel and diming customers on long-distance charges is just another example of the slow creep of telecom fees, where providers find ways of maximizing their revenues even as they trumpet the availability of low-cost plans.
“The plan didn’t change — but other fees found ways onto your bill somehow,” she said.
The telecom industry, for its part, says that Canada’s prices are competitive, citing Statistics Canada data that show wireless prices have declined by almost a quarter, on average, since 2020, thanks mostly to a slew of low-cost, no-frills plans the country’s national wireless carriers have rolled out in recent years.
“This overall trend of decreasing prices has occurred while service providers have invested record amounts in expanding and enhancing their networks to provide Canadians with some of the best-performing and farthest-reaching networks in the world,” said Nick Kyonka, with the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which speaks on behalf of the industry.
“Prices and plan attributes change regularly, including many reductions in prices and/or additional value added, such as increases in data allowances at no additional cost.”
Many of those plans are so-called talk-and-text plans, with little to no data, but with price points of as low as $30 a month. While they are readily available — especially at flanker brands such as Fido, Virgin and Koodo — they, too, are seeing slow price increases.
Since the start of March, each of the Big Three telecom providers and their flanker brands have increased the price of their basic talk-and-text plan to $35 per month. In each case, that’s up from either $32 or $33 per month previously.
The new price of $35 is only for new customers, Bell said, as is the case at Telus, which told CBC News in a statement that “existing customers are not affected and won’t see any changes to their bills.”
While the increase may not seem like much to some, it is yet another cost that will make it harder on many families, says Nichola Taylor, the New Brunswick chair of Acorn Canada, which represents low-income Canadians.
“This is just going to put a lot of pressure on low to moderate incomes, and it’s just going to stretch them even more,” she said. “It’s just another expense added … to raising rents, raising food prices, raising utilities, raising gas. It’s just never-ending.”
The price increases come on the heels of news that two of Canada’s biggest telecom companies raised their roaming rates for Canadians who travel.
In March, Bell and Telus raised the rate they charge Canadians when they use their phones while abroad to as much as $16 per day. Rogers did not raise its roaming rates, but charges $12 for U.S. roaming and $15 internationally.
It’s not just the Big Three, either. Nova Scotia-based provider Eastlink is also increasing its roaming rates to $16 a day for international travel, starting on April 20.
Eastlink told CBC News in a statement that its cost of offering that service has increased, which necessitated the price increase.
“Our international partner rates have increased substantially. We do offer cost-effective, international travel plan options to help our customers manage these costs.”
Laws in Europe preclude wireless customers in the European Union from being charged more for use when they travel within the bloc than they would pay domestically, but no such protections exist in Canada.
Tribe, with OpenMedia, says whether its roaming charges, long-distance fees or increasing the base price for no-frills plans, Canada’s telecom industry is constantly finding “loopholes” to increase revenue where they can.
“We’re seeing it happening a lot more,” she said. “Now … it’s long-distance calling, talk and text, whereas before, we were looking at things like data overages. But it’s exactly the same thing: trying to force people into a bigger plan for maybe more than they need.
“The more unappealing these companies can make those lower-cost plans, or the more threatening we see the fees being, I think, the more they are trying to incentivize people to proactively opt into … those bigger packages.”