Text Bomb
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Text Bomb

Photo by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.

When it comes to holding customers in seething contempt, few corporate entities do it with more blatancy than the Canadian telcos. And they know customers hate them—that’s why Koodo (a brand owned by Telus, though you’d never know it) mocks the industry’s despicable practices in their advertising. But when three biggies control an entire market, forcing users into long-term contracts and deliberately muddying their fee structures, the notion of customer service is merely an insignificant byproduct of offering a service to customers.
So, it was business as usual this week when Rogers announced that they’ll be joining Bell and Telus in charging 15¢ for every incoming text message for customers not paying for an inclusive plan. Here’s the thing: text messages cost the telcos nothing. Zero. They’re part of the signal that constantly pings wireless towers and require no additional bandwidth or equipment—not to mention that the received text has already technically been paid for on its way out. But “common industry practices” dictate that entirely made-up fees can be levied on “perceived value” services, like text messaging, data, call display, and 911 service, and, boy, do we get shafted because of it.

This is the same industry that bundles services together, so you can’t get call display without also paying for voicemail; the same industry that locks down SIM cards and intentionally hobbles built-in phone features such as ringtones unless you pay more; the same industry that uses roaming charges to virtually print money; the same industry that will lock you into a three-year contract that allows them to change the terms of that contract without notice at any time; the same industry that sells—er, “shares“—private customer data for profit.
Rogers says that the new fees won’t affect Fido customers (who also no longer pay the System Access Fee). What that means is that you can have identical service on an identical handset on the identical network owned by the identical company, but you pay more for one because it’s a perceived “premium” brand. Except that the discount brand owned by Rogers has quietly snuck in some sleazy changes to their contracts as well: they now start billing from the moment the incoming caller presses SEND, rather than the moment the phone is answered.

Look at how ecstatic we are being treated like shit!

“The change is to align our message to usage trends and common industry practices,” says Rogers’ boilerplate peddler Liz Hamilton, admitting in a roundabout way that the charges are bogus, but it’s just the way the industry works. This is the flack who, when Bell and Telus originally announced the new fee, said, “We just don’t charge for it and have no plans to. Now it’s a unique differentiator for Rogers.” Of course, waiting a little while after your oligopolistic competitors do it makes it not collusion, right? Because collusion would be illegal.
The Canadian wireless racket is unregulated, and no federal legislation is planned to protect consumers from this excessive nickel-and-diming. The telcos do have to comply with recent anti-spam measures, however, so if unsolicited spam is received via text, a customer will have the charge redacted. But the customer has to contact the company each time it happens.
Rogers also says that because 94% of their customers already pay extra for texting plans, consumer backlash won’t be significant. It’s your own fault if you fall outside their carefully constructed threshold of profit maximization, but they still win either way. The company also points to wireless carriers south of the border, who also charge for received texts, but conveniently neglect to mention that contract terms and service levels are way more draconian up here or how many countries overseas don’t even charge for texting at all.
In related news, profits for all three telcos continue to soar to dizzying heights, not because they innovate in the marketplace and enjoy a happy, loyal customer base, but because they’ve been allowed to behave like obstinate thugs at 15¢ a pop.