CALGARY — When Kevin Sousa's cable company botched his service repairs for a third time, he decided it was time to shop around for a better provider.
But even before starting his search, he knew he had few companies to turn to, especially if he wanted to keep his services bundled in a single convenient package.
"It's terrible, we have so few options," said Sousa. "For me to go somewhere else, I only have the option of Bell really, because if I go anywhere else I have to break it all up."
Watch: Canadians are getting the worst deal of anyone on wireless
Canadians know the conundrum well, but industry watchers say that consumers can at least lower their bills by looking at the growing number of alternatives or pushing back on the big telecoms.
"Look at your options, do your research, and try a smaller player like Distributel or TekSavvy, that don't have as much of a market share, but are able to give you a better deal," said Katy Anderson, a digital rights specialist at OpenMedia.
She said smaller internet players are adding some competition to the industry, but that prices are still inflated and alternative providers are often not available in more rural parts of the country.
The CRTC has been trying to foster more competition, including declaring 50 mbps internet a basic service, and requiring the major telecoms to sell space on even their fastest fibre optic lines, but Anderson said the federal government still needs to create its own broadband strategy for the country.
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'If you don't ask, you don't get'
Mohammed Halabi, director of MyBillsAreHigh, says part of the problem is too few people are pushing against the prices being offered by the big telecoms.
"If you don't ask, you don't get," said Halabi, whose company helps people get better telecoms rates.
He said it's unfortunate that there's so little clarity on pricing and other issues in the telecoms industry, but consumers do have options.
"Customers have been put in that position, so you have to go in there and ask, and don't hesitate to switch your services if you're not getting a good deal from your provider."
Politeness goes a long way
He said it's important not to be outrageous in what you're asking though, and to keep in mind that loyalty — and politeness — does help as you negotiate through escalating levels of customer service staff.
"Tenure does go a long way in negotiations, 100 per cent. One of the most important factors actually."
He said telecoms providers are, however, also eager for new customers, so it's a good idea to push for the best deal possible when signing up. He said you can often extend promotion pricing from six months to a year, and get better than the advertised rates.
Unbundle to save money
Halabi also said that unless you really need the trio of cable, phone line, and internet, you can generally get a better deal by splitting up the services and pushing for the best rate individually on each.
As to knowing how far you can push, Halabi said the cheaper upstart options provide a good reference point on pricing.
"Usually you can get something close to that price point with the big three, after some negotiating. After all, they're selling the service to that company."
He pointed to a current Rogers promotion for a 150 mbps speed hookup at $80 a month, down from $100, but said he's been able to get it for new clients at $60, which is about the same rate that TekSavvy's pricing for that speed starts.
'You have to do the footwork'
With more than 500 internet service providers in Canada, the variance on pricing can go even further though. The CRTC says that for a basic five mbps download internet connection, some providers charge as much as $73 a month for the service in Vancouver and Winnipeg and $85 in St. John's, while competitors offer the same speed for as low as $25 a month in those cities.
Sousa said that he's been able to get his bill down close to the competition, but it takes work.
"You have to do the footwork. I call it a dance," said Sousa.
"You can eventually get it down to about the same price as those other services, but you've got to fight for that kind of stuff."
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