It’s not easy getting connected, but there are plenty of options
Back in the days when phones were still wired in and rabbit ears and radio ruled the home entertainment market, choosing a service to connect your home was simple.
Want better television? Climb on the roof and put up an antenna.
Want a phone? Call the phone company.
Today’s consumer faces a far more confusing array of choices. Phone companies have morphed into the all-around telecommunications and entertainment suppliers. The cable company is selling phone service and everyone is selling the Internet.
How to choose?
First, if you’re looking for an easy formula, forget it.
What’s good for grandma when it comes to Internet might not be enough for your gaming guru teen. The telephone service that gives your neighbours unlimited calling to China may be a waste for you if you never call past Chilliwack.
Added to that is your location. CRTC rules are only gradually catching up with the realities of a many-player telecommunications market with a hodge-podge of regulated and deregulated areas that could leave your cousin in Pouce Coupe paying more for the same phone service you have in Vancouver.
“We are no longer regulated in the home market anywhere where there is sufficient competition to meet the forbearance test the CRTC has set out,” said Telus spokesman Shawn Hall. “Before that we were dictated to the penny what we could charge for home service.”
That explains why, when Shaw first launched its digital phone service in Telus’s backyard, the newcomer could undercut Telus rates while Telus couldn’t persuade its customers to stay with offers of lower rates.
While Hall doesn’t go so far as to say Telus won’t be undersold, he said the company is aggressively competing on price in areas where the CRTC allows it.
“We are still regulated in large parts of the province,” said Hall, adding that Prince George is one area currently before the CRTC for deregulation. “Back in 2002, we applied to reduce our local rates and were told not to by the CRTC; they wanted to encourage competition in the industry so we weren’t allowed to compete for our customers’ business.
“The terms are there has to be three independent home phone providers in a community and at least one other has to be facilities based — that is, they have their own wires, like Shaw. So if there is Shaw, a VoIP [Voice over Internet Protocol] provider and us, it is deemed to be sufficient competition for us to apply for deregulation.”
There are benefits for consumers. Among them, long distance — formerly a big chunk of a phone bill if you called outside of your local calling area — is now low cost or lumped in with unlimited options in bundled packages.
Internet service, formerly a one-size-fits-all option, is now offered by providers in a range of prices and service levels, and they, too, get lumped into bundles offered by companies like Telus, Shaw, Bell, Rogers and other, smaller, players.
IT DOESN’T NEED TO COST A BUNDLE
Bundling all your services with one provider can save money, but be careful what you are signing up for. Here are some factors to consider before you sign up:
WHAT DOES IT REALLY COST?
Companies offer special sign-up deals to attract new customers, but you need to know what your bill will be when the honeymoon is over.
DO YOU HAVE TO SIGN A CONTRACT?
What may seem like a great deal today could sour quickly if your circumstances change or you simply decide you don’t like the service.
READ THE FINE PRINT
Be especially wary of cancellation fees. What if you move midway through a contract and for whatever reason can’t transfer the service to your new home? You could end up paying a hefty fee to get out of it.
Aside from the major carriers, there are a number of smaller companies offering everything from VoIP phones to Internet service. Check out their track record. The Better Business Bureau isn’t a definitive consumer rating but it’s a good place to start. I’d regard any level of complaints as a red flag. The BBB’s record for Vonage lists thousands of complaints, albeit most recorded as resolved. Do a Google search, including blogs and search Twitter to hear what consumers are saying.
WHEN IT COMES TO TELEVISION, NOT ALL PACKAGES ARE CREATED EQUAL
If you’re paying a lot for channels you never watch, shop around, within your current service and with others to see if you can get a tailor-made viewing list that more accurately reflects your needs. Check the availability of HD channels and what exactly your package delivers.
MOVIES AND OTHER EXTRAS
There’s a difference between paying for a movie that you have to watch at a set time and one that is virtually like a video rental, letting you choose when you want to watch, whether you want to stop it to make popcorn, and other useful advantages. Make sure you’re clear on which is which before you start shelling out five bucks a pop (or more) to watch a movie.
INSTALLATION AND SERVICE ISSUES
Ask about any additional charges before you choose and canvas friends and complaints records to see how quickly the company responds when something goes wrong.
Find out what happens when you call 911. There have been cases with tragic consequences when emergency services have been dispatched to the wrong address because the database failed to reflect a move.
“You have to know who is answering that 911 call,” said Mike Jagger, owner of Provident Security. “With a lot of those [VoIP] providers you are talking to a third-party call centre that is then transferring it to the appropriate 911 centre.”
Jagger said if you are relying on your phone to connect your home alarm for monitoring, you will have to switch to some other connection if you opt for regular VoIP service. (That doesn’t include Shaw’s digital phone service which Shaw can connect to your home alarm.)
“Just know that making one change could impact your security,” said Jagger. “It’s an easy fix, it’s not like ‘don’t do it,’ but just understand it.”Published May 9, 2009 · The Vancouver Sun · Written by Gillian Shaw