Lament of a frugal wireless subscriber

25 Feb
7-11 used to have good deals for frugal wireless customers.

7-11 used to have good deals for frugal wireless customers.

Whether it’s prices, roaming, towers, wholesale or umpteen other topics, it seems like just about every aspect of wireless service in Canada has been dissected and discussed over the past few months. But there is at least one forgotten dimension: prepaid resale, or the services sold by mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) such as 7-11, President’s Choice and others.

Truth be told, I’d largely forgotten about these services too until a reader wrote in last week to remind me of them. Rather than regurgitate his tale, I thought I’d reprint an edited version here (with his permission, name withheld by request) in advance of looking into this particular aspect more fully. The reader tells a familiar story, about how even the most frugal of wireless customers are being forced into spending more:

In short, I’m not a big phone talker. This was one of the top reasons why I liked using Speakout. If you are not under any plan, you basically are paying for the time that you use.

When you purchase a $100 top-up, your account is good for one year. To sweeten the deal, 7-11 would often have promotions throughout the year such as an extra $25 credit, free SIM card, and even free phones. If memory serves me, the first time I became a customer a couple of years back, all of those things were included with the $100 purchase. I can’t even recall what the phone was as I pretty much tossed it somewhere and have not seen it since.

In 2013, Speakout rolled out two big changes. It used to be that you could subscribe to a $10 texting plan. They bumped this up to $15. This was not a big deal for me, because I did not use this plan.

The big change for me was when they discontinued their $10 “Internet Browsing” option and replaced it with an option that is considerably inferior, with zero customization options.

Like many frugal users, I subscribed to the $10 Internet Browsing option on my Android phone and through the use of an app called “AutoProxy” I was able to also use apps on my phone.

I’m not insane. $10 data access is a crazy hot deal, even with the slower speeds, odd app problems, etc. I imagine that tons of people abused this and likely even used this as a primary internet connection. This was never the case for me. At home, I have Teksavvy cable, so I use wi-fi. For me, mobile data access was purely supplemental – something I would use while on the go.

At some point, Speakout set an undisclosed cap of two gigabytes per month. I recall coming across several forums where odd users totally lost it on this, feeling deceived about “unlimited.” I was amused that anyone could think that they would be entitled to more than 2 GB per month, given what the cost was elsewhere.

Some time around end of summer or fall 2013, Speakout announced they were discontinuing their “Internet Browsing” service. All customers received a text informing them of this. In November/December, most if not all customers lost the service. The deadline rolled out differently – I have no idea what this was actually based on.

The replacement service is a $10 data plan. The plus of this data plan is you get access to higher speeds and no longer have to use a proxy app. The huge negative is that you are limited to 100 megabytes of data. If you do not use it up that month, it is gone. After you reach 100 MB, you are charged 10 cents per megabyte.

As I’m sure you very well understand, 100 MB is a really small amount given how much data some apps use. There is no discount or larger tier amount offered (such as 250 or 500 MB per month), just $10 per 100 MB. The only way you can get such flexibility is if you subscribe to one of their monthly plans. For me, this is not an option because the main reason I went with them was so that I would not be forced into getting something I did not want and would not use.

In short, I have been forced off a service where I never had to pay attention to my usage into one where I now have to.

For the last couple of months, I set my phone to warn me when I was reaching 100 MB. What my phone says and what appears on their end differs significantly, albeit seemingly in my favour (my phone says I’ve reached 100, while on their end I’ve used 59). There are no details on how this is calculated.

My biggest gripe is that they did not offer a significant period of grandfathering their browsing plan. Like many a frugal shopper, I would aim to do my top-ups only during the times when the extra $25 was offered on the $100 top-up. Lots of people do this. I just topped up my account in the fall, then they changed their service and I’m pretty much stuck with them unless I want to forsake the credit in my account. At the very least, they should have honoured the terms of service that they offered at the time of the top-up.

1 Comment

Posted by on February 25, 2014 in mobile


One response to “Lament of a frugal wireless subscriber

  1. Michael Elling (@Infostack)

    February 25, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    Oh Canada! The land where 10 cent digital wireless was born in 1996. How low things have sunk.

%d bloggers like this: