Can you hear me now?

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Androids, BlackBerries, and iPhones, oh my. Everywhere you look, the mobile phone industry is producing a variety of products that are innovative and attractive, from simple and elegant designs to the overloaded. Anything, so long as consumers are able to achieve the hyper-connectedness that they crave. Here in Saskatchewan, however, the cost of getting connected is high, and the ways to get connected are so limited that they’re offensive.

Living in Saskatchewan, many of us get both our mobile phones and our service contracts through SaskTel. The occasional person receives service from Telus, and there are those who are dedicated Rogers customers, as well. That’s really it, isn’t it? If we are talking major players in the province, thouse three are really the only three.

That is really the problem as well. We essentially have access to only three service providers. And Rogers is out of the running too, because if you don’t live in a major Saskatchewan centre, their service is terrible. So we’re left with two big guys, and as anyone who has ever played any sport can tell you, a league with two teams sucks.

Since the big boys have a virtual monopoly, costs are incredible. Cell phones and smartphones are obscenely expensive if you do not opt for a three-year contract, where you might be lucky to get your phone for $0, so long as you’re fine with making calls from a brick.

What I am saying is that we, the consumers, are getting screwed.

Our choices have narrowed to the point where we don’t even a choice, really, and our wallets are being emptied by service contracts that pretend to offer great value with one hand by squeezing our money out when really they are not. If I travel outside of North America, my phone bill balloons. So I am told I am better off getting a cheap phone at my destination. And guess what? I actually can! What would be impossible with a company like SaskTel is possible in Europe and Oceania. A mobile provider has cheap, basic phones, and service plans that provide everything I need for a fraction of what I dish out at home.

So why is that not possible here? For one, the market is poorly regulated and service providers are having a field day. Overseas, mobile providers such as O2, Vodafone, Virgin, and others have to work hard to get your business. These companies have to be responsive and provide a broad palette of products and service plans. And if one provider doesn’t have the phone I want, I know I will be able to find it at another one. I have choice, and that is what is truly important. Here in Saskatchewan – in North America, really – the telecommunications industry is homogenous and holds consumers in nothing short of contempt.

SaskTel or Telus can afford to be dinosaurs, because where else are people going to go? This doesn’t mean we should privatize SaskTel, by the way. We simply need more competition and more regulation in the mobile phone market. If it is possible to get a brand new phone and a decent service plan for €80 or for $40AUD, why is it that I have to pay hundreds of dollars in Saskatchewan to do the same? Sure, the newest toy with a massive plan is going to cost me money anywhere, but my basic entry should not. We no longer have a basic phone segment in Saskatchewan, or even Canada. We as consumers are being forced by companies to choose costly phones and costly service plans.

I think it is time to change how we do business in Saskatchewan and in Canada as a whole. Let’s increase competition and regulate the market to ensure that consumers get the most bang for their buck.

Sebastian Prost
Contributor

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