Canada’s Worst Cellphone Bill Revealed on CBC Marketplace


Do you have Canada’s worst cellphone bill? We’ve seen users rack up $37,000 via data roaming and others get hit with similar bills of $18,000 and $6000.

CBC Marketplace once again called on Canadians to share their cellphone bill horror stories, and they’ve finally published their segment. Three bills related to Virgin, Bell, and Rogers have made the three finalists for worst bills.

Co-host Tom Harrington looks into some incredible cases, including a woman being asked to pay a cancellation fee even though she’s being deported, and an octogenarian war veteran who’s out of pocket because his minutes expired.

On one hand, it’s ridiculous that our telcos can get away with charging such incredible overages and fees. Yet, the other side of the coin falls on users to be responsible by reading up on their contracts when roaming. Nonetheless, customer service is something all carriers should work to improve on.

The segment is somewhat humourous and it sure does illustrate how wacky Canadian cellphone policies are. Warning, you will get angry when you witness how horrible some customer reps are.

Click here to watch it, and tell me what you think about the segment in the comments!

[CBC Marketplace via @BrendanFalkner]


  • Omar

    How is it ridiculous for the telcos to charge what they do? I thought the job of a private corporation was to make a profit? If people are willing to pay what they are charging then it is frankly not ridiculous. And the excuse of, well we have no choice is not a valid one. Don’t buy a cell phone, use pre-paid, pay the full cost of your device and take a basic monthly plan, whatever; it is not their fault they are doing what they are mandated to do. People need to stop being ignorant, blaming the phone company because they don’t know how to read their contract, ask questions or try and bargain for a better deal. We get it, owning a cell phone is expensive in Canada, but people seem to forget that it is in NO WAY A RIGHT, it is a PRIVILEGE to own a cell phone. You want to be able to call all across the world, surf the internet, watch tv, listen to music, chat with people from across the globe all from something smaller then a deck of cards, this is not a free service. I pay $90 a month for an unlimited cell phone plan that includes 6gb of data and all the extras. I am perfectly content paying that because I understand what I am getting in return. To lazy to call the phone company and confirm your roaming rates, or to top up ur pre-paid account on time, well that is not the telcos fault.

    READ THE CONTRACTS YOU SIGN! If you do not like it, do not buy the product. You do not need a cell phone, you WANT a cell phone. And you want that phone to do everything under the sun. I remember paying $50 for 50MB of data, now I pay $30 for 6GB of data. I do not understand how this is a bad thing? Oh but 6GB is not unlimited you say, well read the fine print of ANY contract, they all have caps. And if you are needing more then 6GB on your cell phone then you simply are not using the right product for your needs.

    Cell phone companies are private corporations, run by people who seek to make the most profit. They are not UNICEF, social welfare or community groups. You don’t like it, then feel free to move to the UK and pay more for other things like gas, or move to Africa, hear it is great this time of year.

  • GC

    TL;DR Verdict: Don’t watch this if you’re an informed cell user. Waste of time.

    Long version:

    I dislike our big carriers, but CBC’s approach was more noise than information.

    The Bell story was more shock and awe drama on uninformed viewers. Yes, Bell failed at protecting their customer against themselves, but “enable data roaming” is off by default off in iOS 4.x, and disabling mobile data was trivially easy in versions 3.x.

    I feel little sympathy towards the Rogers user (as a customer, not her personal life.) Note how the customer relations manager mentioning one of the subsidized phones being less than a year old in age. CBC failed to disclose the phone’s outright prices, and also failed to disclose Mary’s average monthly balance. The viewer also does not know if Mary has attempted showing Rogers the legal papers of her forced deportation. How is this neutral storytelling?

    Only Al’s story was soundingly convincing. The others were weak stories filled with half-truths.

    CBC = Mr. Clement in the video: dump generic points on you and quickly move on.

  • ChrisSteves

    I think this was a great episode of Market Place. I’m sure there are people who think it costs cell companies a lot to keep their service running and don’t realize the massive markup they are paying. The thing about phone and internet services is that cell phones are becoming an essential part of all the lives of most Canadians. Without cellphones our economy would be pretty terrible. However, we have huge markup on these services and we have to pay it. We don’t pay the true cost of food, we pay lower. We pay relatively low price on petrol considering its value and where it comes from. Yet when it comes to communication devices, we pay like 50x the true cost or more and the network is already set up. It’s an oligopoly, which is fine but becomes problematic when its an essential part in our lives. I hope the money is making its way back to the taxpayers via government in some other form (i.e roads/school), as opposed to some Rogers/Bell/Telus shareholders getting rich. I’m sure its not as black and white as it seems. In the end it doesn’t really matter. My bill is like $40/month and I’m fine with paying that because I can afford it and like/need my cell. But, I wouldn’t feel bad paying $5 /month because the costs to the company is so low. In the roaming cases it becomes more complex. It could be that Russia charged Bell thousands (Possible the 5k they negotiated to him), in which case I wouldn’t expect Bell to take a loss. However, when Russians come to Canada, Bell would probably charge a similar rate (or adjusted rate if more Russians go to Canada than Canadians to Russia). Who knows? I found it fascinating to think about.

  • ChrisSteves

    I forgot to mention, if we did have much lower rates. The rates of something else like Gas/Food would probably go up. It’s funny how subsidies and markups work, but I’m assuming somewhere in the high level scheme of things it does make sense. Overall, it’s not a big deal, but yes the prices are much higher than it costs..

  • Dan

    Stole the words right out of my mouth Omar…

  • telco slave

    The simple problem is that our cell phone companies are not customer service companies. They don’t have customers because customers have choices. We only have one choice. We choose which company to sign a contract for a 3 year loan with.

    Once we sign that 3 year loan they turn into debt collection companies. If you do anything other than pay whatever they think is the best for them you become a bad loan and they treat you accordingly.

    Get rid of the 3 year contracts and we would actually be customers again.

  • Tomsiphone

    I watched the show the other night.

    1) The deportee I sympathize with. It’s not her fault and she is trying to make things right. But, Rogers just doesn’t get it. If it were me, I would walk away cuz I’m being deported anyways 🙂

    2) The VirginMobile guy, with stolen minutes is a tough case. Again, read the contract!

    3) The idiot with Bell I feel no sympathy for. He obviously had no idea how to use his iPhone. Bell told him to use Wifi instead of 3G data. So he enabled Wifi. BUT, he didn’t turn off the 3G! Now he cries the blues with a $17,000.00 data bill and expects Bell to eat it. They did reduce it to $5000.00 and he is making payments.

    Why he is considered to have “the worst cell bill in Canada” is not right. He did it to himself. You shouldn’t reward stupidity! But, that’s the CBC.

  • Re: The Rogers Customer. That is NOT and $80 phone. That’s the subsidized price which CBC neglects to point out. Even these “cheap” phones are usually retail actually $300-$500, but people really don’t see it. And the Bell guy should read his iPhone manual. I’m no fan of the Telcos but, these 2 problems are the consumer, not the crappy carriers.

  • Theused

    WOW!!!! You’ve got to be the first person on this board that has accually made the slightest bit on sence.

    Your totally right on everything you say, too bad the rest of these n00bs don’t understand.

  • Zeke2d

    Well, they’re sneaky for one thing, and I get everybody likes to make a profit, but still, Canada has the highest cell phone rates in the world.

    I do agree with you though, that’s why I’m on Pay-As-You-Go with the cheapest option available.

  • Ryan

    Omar you must be a complete idiot! You preach about a cell phone being a privilege in the 21st century? Is that what you are really suggesting? That a means of communication whether you choose it to be home phone, internet or cell phone is not a necessity? If all groceries decide to charge $45 for a loaf of bread will you argue that a grocery is a private corporation who main goal is profit? Would you then suggest to consumers find an alternative source of carbohydrates?

    Just because you are content with paying these exorbitant prices for telecommunication doesn’t mean everyone else has to be especially when there is no real justification for these high prices beside a business model to make profit!

  • Toby C

    You got it spot on Omar. These are companies out to make a profit. People sign contracts and then run away from their responsibilities because they are stupid. All 3 cases highlighted were people who took no responsibility for their actions.

    As for the $4 charge for the date; show me Bell or the Russian provider agreeing that was the cost. An “expert” guy not working for the companies does not count as evidence.

  • Stiggz

    Everybody, boycott Rogers & Bell!!!

  • TimNeru

    Toby, your saying because someone is stupid they deserve to pay 15k? I dont understand people. He’s dumb so It’s fine to screw him over.

  • Omar

    And that is the real change that needs to happen, 2 year contracts.

  • Omar

    Yes, if they are stupid enough to do something to create a charge of 15K, then yes. Nobody gets these verages from using their cell phone in Canada. You get the <1000 overages, which you can sort out with teh telco. When you get a 15K charge from using your phone in Russia, you can't play ignorance.

  • Omar

    Frankly Ryan, the only idiot is you. You completely missed the point I was making. As for your bread comparison, that is not really a fair comparison. If you knew any history of the Canadian wheat farms, the various wheat boards and so on. You would understand that as a society we have decided that, yes bread is a necessity for life. Therefore we must regulate, and subsidize the cost through our tax dollars, in order to prevent massive inflation and skyrocketing prices. A cell phone does not affect your health. You will not become malnutritioned, starve, lose your house, or you car because of your lack of a cell phone. If you really need a cell phone because it’s great to have for emergencies you can easily go to Koodo and pick up a phone and get a pretty decent plan for $25. That phone will make calls and text. The bare minimum you need. That is all that could be and SHOULD ever be regulated. That is your most basic right, if there can even be one, when it comes to a cell phone. The ability to surf the internet, watch videos, listen to streaming radio, skype with ppl across the globe, check you social networks and every other thing on today’s cell phone is and WILL ALWAYS BE A PRIVILEGE and the phone company can charge whatever they want to do that, and in case you still do not understand, the cost of doing that part has come down a very significant amount. $50 used to get you 50MB of data, now at worst $30 gets you 1 GB, you now get 20X more data for 40% less. If you were smart enough to get the 6GB plan for $30 you get 120X more for 40% less. So quit your bitching. All these idiots complain cause they were ignorant. NO PROVIDER IN THE WORLD WILL LET YOU USE THEIR PHONE IN ANOTHER COUNTRY AND NOT CHARGE YOU ROAMING.

    “when there is no real justification for these high prices beside a business model to make profit!” I am sorry but what communist world do you live? This is CANADA, we are a CAPITALIST SOCIETY. It is the goal of the individual to succeed at all costs. It your job to strive for the top. We are not taught to spread the wealth. If tomorrow you opened a business you would be fine just barely making a profit? No you would want to maximize that profit any way you could. You sir are the idiot. You want a highly regulate, cheap market place, where corporations are not allowed to make a profit then move to a COMMUNIST country, where that happens. In Canada, we make profits. Don’t like it, tough shit.

  • Omar

    I can understand them being sneaky when it comes to pre-paid, because they really don’t put it out that effectively on how expirations and roll over works. But when it comes to monthly accounts, they got smart, honestly look at a NEW contract from one of these guys, they make sure you know about roaming, The Rogers and Telus contracts make it pretty clear that if you do something not in your plan you will be charged. It described data, text and voice overages, cancellation fees and how much your phone discount was. So it is hard to play ignorance, especially since these are written in pretty basic terms across 1 – 2 pages. Bell on the other hand has a 10 page contract, that I can understand makes it hard for the customer to read and understand, but I really do think bell wants to just makes sure it wins all the awards for bad service out there, the’ve been sued more then I can remember

  • Omar

    You make a good argument, and for example they do pay more for gas in the UK then we do, where they have cheaper cell phones. I will agree with you when you say the costs have come down, in terms of running the network, but that only applies to the voice part of it. Which should be minimal at this point, especially for Rogers. They have had their GSM towers up for about 10 years now. But for data, they have to upgrade those more frequent and you need more. each tower can only hold X amount of data running through, unlike voice towers which can handle a much larger amount. Could it be cheaper, probably. But data itself has come down in price considerably compared to 4 years ago. Also tip, if you are with rogers call into retentions you can get a 35/mth unlimited across canada voice and text plan…

  • Rounder_Scott

    The problem is that in Canada the CRTC is a barrier to competition within the marketplace allowing corporations to create and exploit a government implemented oligarchy. Therefore consumers do not have free choice.

  • Omar

    That is true, they don’t, especially with the back and forth with Wind and the CRTC. But that still does not give ignorant consumers the right to be stupid and cry to the media about their bills. That is really what the media should be focusing on, run a 1hr program on how the CRTC is curtailing competition, use real facts and give viewers tips on how to contact their MP’s to really voice their opinion on this. Don’t use viewer bate, with 3 ppl that were more then likely in the wrong. I wouldn’t say they don’t have free choice though. Sure Koodo, Fido, and Virgin are all owned by the big 3. But Koodo does offer a much cheaper option over Telus. Fido does offer cheaper plans then Rogers and allows for 2 year contracts. Consumers have to be smarter, just as the CRTC has to do a better job at preventing the exploitations by the phone company. But we can’t just blame the CRTC because some idiot took his phone to Russia. And we also have to realize that Oligarchy’s are a common traits in heavily capitalist and decentralized economies. It just happens, if it’s not cell phones its multi-vitamins, it’s TV providers, it’s coffee and tea, it’s everywhere.

  • 7bulldog

    Should be “Canada’s Stupidest cell phone user” In no way do I side with the cell providers here, However there are no excuses anymore for ignorance and roaming.
    In the case of the woman in Egypt with Telus, she told them to turn her data back on after they had turned it off to protect her and them from huge roaming charges.

  • Ryan

    We can’t have this discussion if you do not see telecommunication as a necessity < If you can't see that as a future aspect then you are very uneducated. I was never referring to a communism I was merely suggesting that the telecommunication market should be a perfect competition market where no one company (or three in this case) can set the price which is happening. You think in capitalistic society you can only make profit from charging exorbitant rates? You can make profit in volume example you can sell 1000 items with $10 and make $10,000 profit but you can also lower your profit margin to $5 and sell 3000 items and make $15000 profit. In this market there will always be customers so the smart approach to make money is by volume not charging one/few customers huge mark up on crappy plans! And for the record we live in a democratic society so the power of change is in every customer < people like you make the society stagnant… i'm pretty sure you can get a rough estimate of the cost of your monthly service online and you can see the profit margin they make off you every month and you're defending them? Unless you are a share holder or owner (which i'm sure you're not) you are on the wrong side of this argument.

    And the reason you are an idiot is because your solution to people who do not want to pay highly monthly fees is move to another country.

    I can't believe people are coming here and actually commenting and defending corporations with over priced products? Is this how brainwashed the society is?

    Just for the record i'm sure Mobilicity/Wind is already or will be making profit with $45 unlimited everything plan! Learn the value of money. And as for you as a consumer I would suggest you never buy an items on sale cause corporations needs to make profit right? and we live in capitalistic society!

    For the rest of educated people reading this please do not buy into his justification as to why we should let the big three rob us every month, there was an independent study done worldwide at the end of 2010 and guess who had one of the highest rates worldwide for telecommunications? Canada so this uneducated Omar defending these companies have no idea what he is talking about… Look at the rest of the world or should I say look at the rest of the capitalistic societies. You work for your money and it should not be thrown at these telecommunication companies overpriced plans and products!

  • Omar

    First off, I am not uneducated. Second, it is not a necessity to have the internet at your fingertips, it can be a necessity to have a phone, but that’s it. You do not need everything else to be dirt cheap. The idea of making their money in volume only works to an extent. there are 33 million people in Canada and currently about 22 million cell phone subscribers. The other 11 million probably don’t need a cell phone due to being children. In a society of 100 Million that would be the case, but Canada’s population is not going to magically increase. They do have a limited number of customers, people are not going to start carrying more phones just because they are cheaper.

    The only fair point you have when it comes to mark up is the cost of making voice calls and sending text messages as well as caller id and vm. that is the only place where pricing has not effectively dropped at all. But the cost of using data has come down a considerable amount, it has dropped in price and given more data to use. I’ve stated before that it cost $50 for 50Mb and now it costs $30 for 1GB or 6GB pending what plan you have. That is a considerable price drop. I think they should offer it as a standard of 6GB for $30, but even without that it is not that bad.

    You are so ignorant to take those independent studies at face value, especially since MOST of them have stated if Canada did not have that 3 year contract, we would not be considered one of the most expensive. Do not call me uneducated. I am not uneducated because I understand that it costs money to have the entire world in my pocket. You do work hard for your money, and you can choose to spend it as you like.
    And it does not take a genius to understand that WIND is NOT making a profit right now. They only have 250K subscribers. It costs close to 1 Billion dollars to build a wireless network. if you take 45 and multiply it by 250K you only get 11.3 million. Now take marketing, employment costs, infrastructure cost and you get a phone company very deep in the red. You clearly do not understand how this system works. It is not cheap to start a cell phone company. If they were profiting so much they wouldn’t need to discount their plans to 50% off. They would not have had to introduce their TAB contracts. People continue to renew with the big 3 for a reason.

    Also I buy a lot of items on sale, because lucky for me, retailers place products on sale when they need to sell them. So I am a smart consumer, and I know how to buy a cell phone and get a better deal on it. If you have been with your provider for a more then a year and can’t get them to give you a better deal, then cancel. Pay the $500 and go to the cheaper option. If it is truly a better deal ,it will pay for the cancellation fee within a year. Yes the costs to leave a provider are high and that SHOULD be regulated. But you are, or should make yourself fully aware of those costs before you sign that 3-year contract.

    And my solution was not to move to another country, i was making an argument that if you want to state that it costs X amount less to have a cell phone in country Y over Canada, then you should understand that they pay more for other items, items that are real necessity’s in life. Like gas, bread and housing. As well many places where they have cheap cell service, they are not really stable. So if you want to have a cheap cell phone there may be other trade offs.

  • Agree, CBC is lacklustre in general, poor news performance all around, and always seems to play catch up. Is there any wonder why they are getting funding cut.

  • Toby C

    How is it screwing him over if he incurred the expense? Why don’t I go out and buy a $15,000 plasma with a cheque from a local “large retailer” and the cheque bounces because I never had the money. I say I’m willing to pay $5,000 of the $15,000 on a repayment plan. We all know the $15,000 plasma isn’t worth $15,000. The retailer puts a mark up on the cost, you know so they can make a profit and stay in business. Why shouldn’t the retailer let me have it at cost since I can’t afford it? This is where your logic fails.

    All companies have to hold a hard line on people especially when there are such specific clauses in contracts because if they make an exception then what stops them making that exception for another customer. The profit of the telco drops and to gain back the profit they then increase plan costs and other various items that effects the whole customer base including us.

    I accept people in financial hardship for whatever reason deserve a break; but all of these cases on the TV show are people not doing their research and not taking responsibility for their actions.

  • Ryan

    My apologizes for my choice of words. We have different opinions in which we can agree to disagree but simply put I think the telecommunication market should be a perfectly competitive market in which the consumer sets the price not the corporations.

    As for the CBC special I have little sympathy for the Bell customer because consumers should know what plan/contract there on and I figure if more people are aware of their contracts they’re signing, change to this system would have came much sooner!

  • Anonymous

    Actually, you don’t even have to call retentions. I called about my cable bill a month and a half ago and the CSR ended up putting me on the unlimited plan (which apparently also covers the US as long as you call from Canada) because I had been with Roger for my cable for 5+ years. Also got my cable bill reduced too.

    It all depends on which CSR you get. Luckily I got one who knew what he was doing.

  • Omar

    Yeah I have the unlimited NA one too, its $50….

  • Fordomatic69

    While I agree with most of what you are saying. The Telco’s make their contracts so confusing and full of legal jargon that the average person can’t sift through all the fluff. The contracts need to be clear and written in “normal” language without all the legalese and double-speak of a crafty lawyer.

  • darkmEat

    I couldn’t have said it better Ryan. Mr. Telco spy, Omar should go to telco website and comment there. And, just in case one is not up on current events, people are pissed off. There’s a revolution happening baby and it’s the rich vs. the poor. These are the corporations that create poverty on a global level. People are fired up baby. One just has to look at all the major military armies around the world that are on heightened alert. We are on the eve of destruction. This is what the persuit of money… Capitalism has brought to us thus far.
    My two…. Better make that 3 cents worth.

  • Superfly!

    It is ENTIRELY unsurprising: Come on, the Airlines are no better, it costs Twice as much to purchase a one-way-ticket compared to the cost of a return ticket. How are these pricing decisions being arrived at, who is doing the costing (it is entirely evident that they haven’t a clue about accounting and accountability) and who is approving them, and why are the good auditors dumb-founded???