An Open Letter to Canadian Internet Service Providers

Dear Internet Service Providers (ISPs),
I’m going to attempt to remain as calm as possible throughout this letter, but honestly we’ve all had enough of your ridiculous policies and price gouging.
I’ve written and talked about this problem many times before, and 5+ years of crazy and punitive changes to your wireless and home internet packages has left me shaking my head in disappointment at your terrible treatment of your poor customers who don’t know any better.
A little about me, I’m not really what anybody would call a “heavy” data user, I just enjoy using technology to its maximum potential in my everyday life. I take pictures and video with my camera phone pretty much every day. I watch shows like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report 4 days a week on my morning and afternoon bus commute. I pay Apple for the privilege of streaming a reasonable amount of music in my iTunes library to my cell phone, tablet and laptop. I also listen to podcasts, 1-2 per day, that have to be downloaded. I download apps too, but certainly not a crazy amount. That being said, ALL of your data calculators are completely unable to accurately predict my wireless data usage, coming in anywhere from 5 GB to 12 GB a month (usually I max out the meter).
I’m also pretty technically savvy, and use social media. This means that I back up the photos and videos I take to Dropbox and Google Photos, I check Twitter, Facebook and Google+ a normal amount, and man a few social accounts for projects I’m working on or involved in.
I am certainly an advanced mobile user, but I don’t think my Internet usage should really fall too far outside the mainstream if not for your outrageous mobile service plans which gouge customers like me who simply want to connect to the internet at its full potential.
Here is a breakdown of my mobile phone usage for September 10 – October 9 (this is now a seemingly typical month):
Minutes used: 33:41 mm:ss
Messages sent: 39 msgs
Data consumed: 35.91 GB
I recently renewed my plan which I originally got in 2008 which I have been clinging to for dear life, which includes 150 anytime minutes (unlimited eve/wknd), unlimited SMS messages to North American numbers, and what was at the time called “Unlimited Mobile Browsing”. At the time, this was a $5 add-on with my new Sony Ericsson flip phone. I LOVED that phone. Since signing up for this plan, I have moved to a smartphone, and renewed the plan this summer while getting a Nexus 5 for about $60 after rebates.
Now, for people reading this who aren’t familiar with my story, you would probably expect that I’m probably paying a lot of money for my plan that can get me 36 GB of data. Using that much data on even the most generous Rogers data plan would cost you well over $300. But in 2008, my plan cost me only $40 (+ 13% HST) per month, and that’s how much I’m paying today. I do the math every 6 months or so and no matter how you slice it, it is worth keeping this plan and buying new phones outright than to switch to a punitive new plan and suffer through curbing what isn’t really extraneous mobile data usage.
Companies like you (Rogers, Bell and Telus) have bought up or created smaller brands to attempt to appeal to customers trying to save money, but all you really do to those customers is give them even less than your major brands will give them. Koodo, Solo, Chatr, Fido, Virgin, etc., are no better deals than your major brands when it comes to the tiny amounts of data they get. Even if you buy a plan from Rogers with 30 GB of data (designed allegedly to be shared between a large number of phones/people), that still isn’t enough data for one person with my non-excessive browsing habits.
Good old 2007!

I accept that I may be in a particularly unique situation with my high data use in 2014, but this is the way things are going with the internet. We need to be able to transfer data quickly and efficiently on mobile networks. And it’s not like I’m not suffering consequences of being on a grandfathered plan from when the iPhone was a new product running on the EDGE network. I don’t have visual voicemail, which is standard on the new plans. I don’t have access to LTE data, and my upload speed is throttled particularly harshly (I’m not sure if my download speed is throttled, but it’s about an order of magnitude faster than the upload). I can’t tether my tablet or laptop to my phone’s internet connection unless I jailbreak my phone, and I prefer to keep my software up to date than to jailbreak these days.

These policies and tiny data caps are not unique to cellular carriers and networks. DSL, Cable and Fiber internet customers also suffer through some extremely stingy plans. The plan I have been on for the last few months for Cable Internet is fairly expensive, but at least it comes with unlimited data transfer. Before that, for 6 months I suffered through a new cable and internet package that included 150 GB of data per month. That was torture, as I like to download beta software, music, and other media, and my fiance and I love Netflix and basically any other service that means we don’t have to sit down in front of our TV on the hour to watch whatever show happens to be on. I was tiptoeing around to keep under the 150 GB cap for 6 whole months, and it was painful.
Right now, you might be thinking “Boohoo, you get what you pay for”, and that I shouldn’t be complaining about something that’s cheap. I understand why you might say that, and I’ve always been very open about the fact that if I’m getting something worthwhile, I would be more than happy to pay a premium for that.
However, as is evident in the mobile space, and to a lesser extent in the home internet world, data rates (especially for overages) are completely outrageous and not what any normal person would consider reasonable. Even if we pretend that I’m going to pay for Rogers’ 30 GB plan on mobile (which is $250 a month), that’s not enough data for my typical needs. Beyond the data usage of any mobile data plan, additional data costs $10-15 dollars extra per GB. It has been calculated that the highest estimated cost to an internet provider for a GB of data transfer is about $0.08. In the home internet world, costs are even lower than that, but you can still expect to pay anywhere from $1-5 per GB for overages. This, plain and simple, is price gouging. 
Now, I hear your customers reading this shouting “Why don’t you just go to Wind, or Mobilicity?” I understand where those people are coming from. To put it simply, I have tried Wind, and though their service is fairly good, the internet is slower than what I would be getting on the Rogers network even on 3G, and if I end up outside their coverage zone, rates skyrocket to as high as $50 a GB, or basically what any customer who is using pay-as-you-go data on Rogers would be using. It also doesn’t save me money from my current plan, but if something ever happens to that plan, I would be going to Wind in a heartbeat.

I know that a lack of competition is what is stopping you from lowering your prices. I know this because there are examples all over Canada of people competing with you in small markets, and you have lowered your prices or changed pricing structures in those areas. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, for instance, you offer very cheap plans with 5 or 10 GB to match the offerings of provincial carriers like MTS and Sasktel. In Ontario, when companies like Teksavvy started buying bandwidth from you in bulk and reselling it at lower cost, you made a plan that you don’t advertise publicly except to TekSavvy customers. The plan very closely resembles the standard TekSavvy plan, and you can make offers like 6 months free on a 2 year contract to sweeten the deal and keep little guys out of the market.

Never mind the fact that you 100% pay your Rogers technicians more for service calls to Rogers customers than for TekSavvy service calls, which mean that TekSavvy customers end up waiting days or weeks for technicians who are prioritizing Rogers accounts. That is a conflict of interest if I have ever seen one. If somebody gets fed up with this seemingly bad service from TekSavvy, they can call Rogers, get the same tech out the next day to set up their Rogers internet, and pay more for it. This process is absolutely criminal and I can’t believe the CRTC lets you get away with it year after year.
Please, please, PLEASE change your business practises. I am one of 35+ million Canadians who is fed up with the current state of internet service in Canada. I want to buy mobile and home internet from you Rogers, Bell and Telus. I just want to pay a fair price for the data I use, let you take home some profit, and call it a day. That’s all any of us want. But what you’re doing to your loyal customers simply won’t last, and I implore you to give the people who love the work you do pushing internet technologies forward what they want. Plans with more data. Doubling the prices of your plans and offering unlimited minutes across Canada and unlimited SMS is not what customers want, as research has shown over and over again in the last few years. Run a legitimate business, that’s all I’m asking.

Thank you,

Generation Why? (Part 3)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this story, I talk about my journey from post-secondary education to getting started with trying to make a career. This is Part 3.

As I talked about earlier this week, I am a huge believer in the concept of basic income. This is the idea that everybody in a given political system (city, county, province, country, etc.) would get a government cheque with an amount that would keep the poorest among us above the poverty line.

If you’re asking how a government could possibly afford this, it wouldn’t happen all at once. The program would obviously be a little bit more complicated than just giving everybody free money. Personal taxes would probably go up a little bit if you make more than the basic income amount. Businesses would have the opportunity to restructure their salaries so their employees would make about the same amount of money overall as they did before, and the corporate tax rate would also be raised since these businesses would now have some former salary that is no longer going to employees. Parents with children under 18 would receive additional benefits to keep their families above the poverty line, so that we could get a real chance at making sure no crimes are committed simply because somebody is poor. The economic stimulation from this system would undoubtedly be unbelievable, as suddenly the resources needed to run homeless shelters, hospitals, police forces, payday loan centres, etc., would suddenly drop precipitously.

There has been quite a bit of talk lately about the fact that automation in first world countries and factories around the world mean that human workers will come to be relied upon less and less. However, profits from companies that turn to automation won’t slow down, if anything they will become more efficient and make even more money. All of this could mean that we will have millions of people with no work to do, and corporations making incredible amounts of money (something that you will note is already happening in the US, and almost certainly in other places). Executives are making hundreds or thousands of times as much as their lowest employees, at a pace that is completely unsustainable in the long term. Increasing corporate tax rates for corporations that are innovative and forward-thinking enough to stay ahead of the curve on automation will still make more money, but they will pay a higher percentage of tax when their revenue gets into the hundreds of billions of dollars. This tax revenue can then be redistributed to former workers and those unable or unwilling to work to keep them from burdening society, but also keep them injecting money back into the economy.

Humans need not apply.

At a certain point in the future, not everybody will have to work. The concept of the 40-hour work week is something that was made up by Henry Ford (it actually used to be higher than 40 hours on assembly lines, before child labour laws were a thing) when he decided to give people more time off work without a cut in pay so that people would be able to go out and actually have time to spend the money they were earning. If we took this even further, some people could go down to something like 15-25 hours a week, and still earn enough money during that time to make a comfortable living. Money itself is a human construct, and it’s becoming an increasingly virtual one. Estimates put the amount of cash in circulation at only about 10% of the world’s wealth. Saying that there isn’t enough money to give everybody enough to avoid malnutrition or starvation or disease or homelessness just isn’t realistic. In North America we throw away about half of the food that is produced because it goes bad or people will not eat it or it can’t be sold. Grocery stores do this, throwing away food after rendering it inedible while the homeless peddle for change.

What are we doing to our brothers and sisters?

Now, back to my generation. I talked yesterday for a bit about the concept of giving new graduates a stipend for (about) 6 months of salary to get them started on the right foot. If new post-secondary graduates didn’t have to worry about money fresh out of school, don’t you think there is SO much they could accomplish. If I had had 6 months paid for me out of school with the freedom to job hunt without fear of not getting a return on investment (over $60000 for 5 years of school), there would have been much less pressure to find a job fast, and I could think about what I really wanted to do with my life, and pursue that passion.

At this point, all things considered, my pre-career has been pretty great. I have been working a lot of fairly short, term contracts, with the theory being that I’ll eventually work my way into something permanent where I actually have a smidge of job security. University, though I enjoyed it greatly, did very little to prepare me for the concept of going out into the world and making myself known. I gained a modicum of notoriety at my school in my department, but that would only be useful if I had wanted to continue down the academic path. My options were severely limited after that point, and I had effectively no contacts in industries, because I was doing fundamental research with basically no real-world usefulness just yet (which I was fine with, but it didn’t help me out in any way career-wise).

It would be really great if the public service remembered the humble beginnings from whence it came. I have a lot to say about the nature of the government hiring process and the stress it puts on new hires trying to figure their lives out, but I think I’m going to save that for another time. All I have to say is that when you prioritize cheap labour with the bare minimum qualifications, you get what you pay for. Outsourcing your workforce to temp agencies might save you money in the short term, but when young people see how much easier life is in the private sector, you’re going to have a lot of difficulty attracting fresh faces who’ve already seen the brighter light.

University taught me a lot, but one thing it failed to prepare me for was the size you feel when you doff the ivory towers of your post-secondary institution and proceed on your own into the world. I know I have a lot of offer the world, and I’m going to get there one way or another. I’ll just take it 6 months at a time for now.

This concludes my thought-splosion on the state of affairs for students after university entering the workforce. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 from earlier this week as well.

Generation Why? (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this story, I give a little bit of history of how I got to where I am today with a contracted job in the public service, knowing what I want out of university, and what I learned about finding an adult job.

Yesterday, I spent some time reflecting on how I got to where I am in my adult life. I went through some of the difficult choices I had to make, and the hardships associated with leaving university not really knowing where I was going to end up. My intent today is not to place blame on the education system for that indecision, but rather to suggest ways to improve the transition from adolescence to adulthood for people entering the workforce who might not have had the opportunity to find work that they truly love in university.

It’s true that most colleges and universities offer work-training programs or coops, but a student getting placed somewhere they can see themselves spending the rest of their lives is understandably pretty rare. It’s very hard to tell what’s going to happen 2-3 years in the future, let alone trying to decide how to spend 30 years of your working life while simultaneously developing friendships, new skills, and a social identity not shaped by your parents. Add that to the fact that cheap transportation and changing attitudes about university mean that more and more teens are moving out of their homes, or out of their cities, for post-secondary education.

For some social groups, it is assumed that if you are raising a family, you will give your child room and board throughout their education, you will subsidize their education (aided or not by scholarships) or pay for it entirely. In general, you should attempt to do everything in your power to remove as many barriers as possible to your child getting the best education. This is a great tactic, but from a generational perspective, with new families hitting the same uncertainties I described in Part 1, starting a family can seem absolutely daunting from the perspective of needing to save tens of thousands of dollars right from the outset.

I have been living for the last three years with no more than 6 months of certainty about whether I would be hitting the streets looking for a new job. Though I have only spent about 2 months out of the last 2 years unemployed, at no point did I have a job that felt like it was remotely permanent, which is a very disparaging feeling. I know I have skills that I can offer to almost any organization, and getting hired on short term contracts with fairly rigid, fixed end dates isn’t something that any 20-something wants to do. It also means that once out of school, it is difficult or impossible to develop yourself professionally, for a couple of reasons. First off, you can try to sell yourself while you already have a job, but that comes off as not being appreciative of the work you have. You can try to talk about what you do in your spare time, but what business people who would potentially hire you want to know is, “What do you get paid to do?”.

It all feels like a race nobody is winning.

All of the above leads me to the basic fact that time is money. Nobody wants to waste their lives away doing something they don’t care about. As an employer, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify taking a risk in hiring somebody without being able to prove by some measurement that the decision is justified and backed up by some kind of hard evidence. I know a lot of young people who are working away today without a real connection to the work they’re doing, simply because it is a means to a life. And if that is all you want, putting your time in, going home and doing whatever you want, more power to you. But I think that as a society, we can do better.

I’ve talked before about basic income, the idea that each person would be given a basic amount of money each year to keep them above the poverty line, thus enabling people who have a lot of difficulty affording a place to live and food to eat a little bit of help. It would certainly help ease the burden of homeless shelters, soup kitchens, government welfare programs, clinics and health care facilities, and many other institutions. There is a lot of debate about an idea like this, but I given what we know about the experiments where it has been tried, a lot of good can come from it.

On the same vein, another social welfare program that I think would be extremely beneficial would be a program to give university graduates a push out the door financially. There will be some students who will fall out of university directly into a job, and those people will still be in great financial shape, so this will only benefit them a little bit. However, people like me, who are unsure where they want to go, and what they want to do, would benefit HUGELY from 6 months or so of minimum wage salary up front in the form of a stipend. Since most students fresh out of university will be faced with increasing student debt which generally starts requiring payment at the 6 month mark, this small windfall would be a huge help in staying on their feet and entering the adult world in that much better shape.

Burdens on parents and families would be reduced, as new adults would be less inclined to move back in to their parents homes, and parents would have the freedom to move if they chose, rather than holding on to family dwellings in case their children failed to launch or had difficulty finding a job. There are several European countries who don’t pay for university at all, which would also be a huge financial help to students, but I think this kind of monetary reward for finishing school would be extremely beneficial.

This story will continue with Part 3 tomorrow, where I will talk about how rearranging our current post-secondary financial system could have far-reaching implications in everything from family planning, real estate, and even retirement planning. Check out Part 1 from yesterday as well.