Home > Internet > Silly Season: Cellphone Charges, OECD Comparisons and is Canada a Wireless Leader or Laggard?

Silly Season: Cellphone Charges, OECD Comparisons and is Canada a Wireless Leader or Laggard?

It’s silly season again. The OECD just released another study showing that, on the telecom front, Canada is not doing so well, and continues to slide. This time, the OECD looked at the cost of “international roaming charges” for wireless data plans used abroad for the two largest cellphone companies in each of the 34 member OECD countries.

The headlines cascading across the ‘news media chain’ — daily newspapers, television, Internet and so on down the line — yesterday were dramatic. I used the story too. For a 1MB download on wireless data plans from Bell and Rogers, Canadian’s pay around $25 in roaming charges when outside the country versus under $5 for Greeks, and $10 for the OECD on average.

This is bad news indeed, and one more that ranks Canada at the very back of the pack in ‘global telecoms lemming race’: 34 out of 34 amongst OECD countries.

Financial Post editorial writer Terrance Corcoran today had a fit. The International Roaming Charges report, he snorted, “is another mangled OECD statistical mess in the agency’s ongoing production of screwball international telecom reports.”

Corcoran is right that news media glommed on to headlines, and so too did I at first, before digging deeper and linking directly to the OECD. Change the lens, he says, and things look a whole lot different.

Instead of looking at the cost of a one time downloading fee, he wants us to look at the cost of downloads of 1, 5 and 20MB in wireless data plans offered to the cheapest destination and the place where we are most likely to visit — the United States. And we should measure ‘roaming charges’ to the US (versus the rest of the world) for over a period of several days or even a month, not just a one shot splurge. Do this, he says, and a wholly different picture emerges.

Indeed it does. For example, it only costs $12 to download 5MB of data over the course of five days versus an OECD average of $21.  In Japan and Chile, at the opposite end of the spectrum, charges are really silly at $58 and $70, respectively.

The roaming charges for Bell and Rogers – since the study looks at the two biggest cellphone companies in each country, for a total of 68 in all — on this measure rank 13th out of 34 countries. It’s not exactly first prize, but it is substantially better than the ‘bottom of the barrel’ story that flooded the headlines.

Things look better yet when going to 20MB, with Canada ranking 7th, with an average price of about $25 versus $60 plus for OECD countries on average, although the Slovak Republic (USD 14.50) and Slovenia (USD 18.14) came in at the low end of the scale.

Corcoran argues that it is just this kind of nonsense that rubbishes the study as a whole. He shakes his head in disbelief that Industry Canada continues to support and stand by such idiocy while the likes of Bell, Rogers and Telus take an unnecessary beating, not least by those he ridicules as the ‘telecoms bashers’.

He finds other studies to mention or show, that like his own examples, that Canadian cellphone companies fare closer to the top than the bottom of the heap. Besides, he claims, the studies have already been dated by the speed of events because Bell, Rogers, Telus, Public Mobile and Wind’s new plans make the ‘old concerns’ obsolete.

But hold on here a minute. The point is that there is not just one study, but one after another by diverse sources that point in the same direction. In addition, not Industry Canada, but Statistics Canada takes the lead in these kinds of studies. We must get beyond the idea that OECD stats are rubbish, too. The data is provided by Canadian carriers and the OECD’s methods have been developed under the leadership of folks from Statistics Canada.  The data and methods are admittedly imperfect, according to those I know who have been directly involved in these processes, but they are among the best we have and highly credible.

Corcoran already knows this in a way because his own ‘contra’ evidence is drawn from the same study, just a few different measures. And yes, new plans come and go (part of the problem actually, intentionally sowing confusion as it does), but when a snapshot is taken and of the two biggest players for each of 34 countries broader patterns emerge.

And that’s really the nub of it. Corcoran is amiss in his critique of the overall quality of OECD data and reports, and insofar that his own portrait cherry picks the bits that support the kind of argument that he wants to make, while ignoring the rest.

In between the headlines and his picked cherries, however, is a broader range of measures that help fill in the picture. Looking at them, unfortunately, restores the dominant image of a country whose quality of telecom services has steadily slipped over the past decade.

When it comes to roaming charges to use our wireless data devices in the big wide world outside the United States, it costs more to download 1, 5 or 20MB of data for Canadians regardless of whether we download once, or spread it out over five days or even a month.

Looking at those measures, Canadian carriers again fall consistently in the bottom 5 or 6 of the pack when it comes to international wireless roaming charges. We must remember that this is an ‘international’ study, not a Canada-US centred one.

When we think in terms of the flows of people – mobility, migration and jet-setters – and beyond the horizons of the U.S., it is the world out there rather than just the neighbour nextdoor that we need to look to and make our judgements. Corcoran’s analysis is, in this regard, selective and myopic. This is a study of international roaming charges, remember, not just roaming charges for Canadians in the U.S., as he would like to have it.

The table below presents a fuller, although not complete range of relevant comparisons.

Service Type Canada’s Rank out of 34 Canadian Cost (US$ PPP) OECD Avg. Cost (US$ PPP) Cheapest (US$ PPP)
1MB/1 Session 34 25 10 4.90 (Greece)
5 MB/1 Session 31 60 32 11 (France)
5MB/5 Days 31 60 40 11 (France)
20MB/30 Days 29 180 140 48 (France)
20MB/One Session 28 180 120 20 (Ireland)
 
‘Cheapest Dest.’
1 MB/1 Session 13 10 5.80 1.80 (Ireland)
5MB/5 5 Days 13 12 25 5 (Luxemb)
20MB/30 Days 7 25 60 15

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