Sasktel’s Great Bait & Switch

Last year, I terminated my mobile phone contract with Rogers, and signed a three-year contract with Sasktel Mobility. I chose Sasktel at the time for two reasons. First, their coverage area within Saskatchewan is much better than Rogers’ (although now it is comparable to Bell or Telus). Second – and this was the most important reason - Sasktel offered a $40 unlimited Canadian texting & data plan (the data portion of my average $80/month bill). Seeing that I am a heavy data user and that I travel frequently across Canada, this was by far, for me, the best mobile data deal in Canada. However, that all changed when Sasktel drastically changed the terms of this contract through the institution of what they term a “fair usage policy”.

I do not believe that I received official word from Sasktel about this change, although I may have (perhaps a text or a letter?). But, I noticed a subtle change in their advertising on billboards and other signage. Sasktel began to advertise their “unlimited in Saskatchewan data plan”. I found this odd, as it seemed to describe the same plan that I had, except the company had never before described the unlimited data plan as being limited within Saskatchewan. So, curious, I stopped in at a kiosk and was informed that my plan had indeed changed. Instead of the unlimited Canadian data plan that I had signed, instead, I found myself stuck with an unlimited Saskatchewan-only data plan with only 200 MBs of Canadian data!  There is now a $.10/MB fee charge on any data over 200MB. To put this into perspective, a 1GB overage (which I could easily accrue) will now cost me an additional $100/month on top of the $40 I pay for the standard data portion of my bill. To take this further through a somewhat extreme but plausible example, if I use what Sasktel originally termed as ‘unlimited data’ (softcap of 10GB, connection slowed thereafter) outside of Saskatchewan, it means that this plan would cost $1000 more per month than stated in the original contract.

So, I took to Twitter and expressed my outrage at these changes, and after a short dialogue with the @sasktel Twitter account, I received an email from Sasktel. You can read the entire message here if you are interested, but I have only included the portion related to the “fair usage” policy.

The purpose of the Fair Usage Policy is to ensure that all customers have equitable access to wireless services. It also ensures that SaskTel can continue to offer competitive rates. We did revise our out-of-province roaming in February 2011 by imposing a limit of 200 Mb of data outside Saskatchewan per month within all plans, after which customers may pay additional charges of 10 cents per megabyte and data speeds may be reduced for the remainder of the month (to 256 kbps which is equivalent to SaskTel’s High Speed Light DSL Internet service and is capable of streaming standard definition video).

From time to time the Fair Usage Policy is revised to meet changing circumstances in the industry such as the incredible increase in demand for wireless data. All providers are experiencing these issues.

I applaud Sasktel’s public relations team for coming up with this “Fair Usage” policy, and for a second there, I actually felt guilty that by signing up for an unlimited data plan and then by actually using it as it were … ummmm … unlimited, that I have been contributing to the high cost of mobility coverage in our nation. It seems that this is my fault, and Sasktel is only providing me with an ethical framework linked directly to a strict financial penalty – just in case I get out of line.

Or, I could read this differently. Maybe Sasktel simply underestimated its growth and success in this market, and therefore, was negligent in understanding the real costs of its services? Maybe Sasktel’s infrastructure has not grown as quickly as its success in attracting new subscribers? Or perhaps, Sasktel just doesn’t see a serious obligation to honour commitments to its subscribers, those that signed up for contracts under very strict terms. I see shades of all of these possibilities in my communication with Sasktel, and you may as well. If any of these points are in fact accurate, is this a company that you’d want to do business with?

What should Sasktel do to make this right? It’s simple. Honour your existing contracts through grandfathering the original terms. If you don’t want to provide unlimited Canadian data to your subscribers in the future, that’s fine, but provide the services that you have committed to in contracts such as mine. I used to have the best data plan in Canada. I now have the worst data plan in all of Canada, and I am tied to a company that I no longer trust.

I know that many of you reading this don’t live in Saskatchewan, and directly, this issue may not be of concern to you. But perhaps by sharing this in some way, I can help get this issue resolved for many of us, and it may prompt other mobile providers to be more serious about the commitments they make to subscribers. Thanks in advance.

  • Petru

    Section 16 says it all.

  • http://rickscafe.wordpress.com richard Schwier

    Bazinga.

  • Peter

    Did you know that it is actually illegal in Canada to change a contract without prior notice to both parties. Neither party is supposed to have the ability to change the contract without notice to the other, and, in most cases, it is illegal to do so without offering the other person out of the contract for no charge.

  • http://successfulteaching.net Pat (aka Loonyhiker)

    Is there a Federal Trade Commission in Canada that you can complain to about this? I know we have one in the US that I would have gone to. We also have TV news stations that might want to know this story. This is absolutely wrong! If you have a contract with them, can they legally change it without your acceptance? If you had decided that you wanted to change the terms, would you have been allowed to pay a different price on the premise that you decided to not use all the services agreed in your contract? No. I think they should have to honor your original agreement! I hope you get some resolution to this! (and please keep us updated!)

  • http://www.apaceofchange.com Damian

    This has been happening in the States as well, most recently (and notably) with Verizon Wireless, toward the end of summer 2011. They did grandfather in existing users, though. Other wireless carriers have been honoring their “unlimited” data plans, but throttling speeds considerably after X number of MB have been reached. I’m pretty sure my carrier, Sprint, is the last remaining of the “big 4″ to have unthrottled, ‘true’ unlimited, but a few years ago they tacked on an additional $10/mo surcharge for smartphones on both existing and new unlimited plans (not the end of the world, but still…).

    I started using an unlimited data plan with my Palm Centro, just a few months before the original iPhone and similar subsequent smartphones went mainstream and, I’m imagining, put unprecedented demands on mobile networks. I’m guessing the carriers never anticipated what unlimited could look like, as opposed to what it did look like in 2005 or 2006…

  • http://www.apaceofchange.com Damian

    @Pat – If it’s anything like in the States, the only thing the carrier has to do is allow Alec to leave his contract without paying the ETF. I read the Consumerist blog, and they regularly have blurbs about this carrier or that changing the terms of service (Google “material change” and “ETF” for some examples). They’re not prevented from doing so, but those actions constitute a material change to the contract, which makes the customer free to break the contract without penalty and seek service elsewhere.

    The problem becomes – as it did with Sprint for me when they added their monthly $10 charge – where are you going to go? Sprint was still the least expensive of the four major carriers, even with the extra $10 (or $240 over the life of the contract), so I just sucked it up and stayed with them rather than cutting off my nose to spite my face and signing up with Verizon.

  • http://pgcummings.wordpress.com Philip Cummings

    That’s just wrong! They definitely should honor their commitment to you or let you out of the contract. If this is the way they treat their paying customers, they don’t deserve your business or anyone else’s.

  • http://www.apaceofchange.com Damian

    Hmm, I left this followup but it seems to have disappeared. Re-posting:

    @Pat – If it’s anything like in the States, the carrier doesn’t have to do anything except let Alec break his contract early without incurring the ETF. Carriers can and do make changes to services, terms of contracts, etc. These changes constitute material changes to existing contracts, and as such, allow the customer to leave without penalty and take their business elsewhere.

    The problem becomes, where are you going to go? When Sprint added their $10 monthly surcharge, they were still the cheapest of the big 4 carriers, so I stayed with them. Adding $240 to the total cost of the contract is most definitely a material change that would have allowed me to leave, but going to a more expensive carrier would have been me cutting off my nose to spite my face.

  • http://swrightboucher.wordpress.com SWrightBoucher

    The problem is the contract itself. They usually contain a clause that amounts to one-way termination. The carrier is allowed to change anything they like, while the customer has to pay huge buy out penalties if the contract becomes unusable. We have to stop agreeing to these contracts. Koodo has great terms in Canada with no contract and great coverage. I love it. (BTW, I’m not affiliated – just a satisfied customer).

  • Heather

    As a Sasktel subscriber, I do remember receiving a text about this. I don’t think that it will be a big deal to me. However, I agree with you! You (and I) signed up for a service and pay for the service and the service contract should be honoured. If there are to change the terms of your contract, they should be asking you to sign a new contract, which you would then negotiate to your liking. Good luck!

  • http://milestomes.com milesmac

    Had the same issue with Manitoba Telecom. My “Unlimited” plan was changed with a footnote sentence on one of my indecipherable 8 page phone bills. The plan name did not change, nor did the cost of the plan, but he terms and conditions did change significantly.
    Because of my geography, I used dialup internet and left MTS for a significantly cheaper provider that required a long distance call – no problem with the unlimited, except that my unlimited wasn’t unlimited any more… received a $500 phone bill which they graciously cut in half while telling me, “I guess you didn’t save anything by switching.”
    What a slap in the face.
    Oh, while I’m not on a data plan, we had an accidental web connection and and $0.10/MB is significantly better than the $0.06/KB MTS billed me.
    I would LOVE to see reforms in billing practices and rate calculations – doesn’t seem to matter what I do, what plan I’m on, or how sparingly I use telecom services, my bills are always the same, or I get a punishing financial gouge when trying to save money.

  • Don D

    Sasktel, and just about every other carrier, definitely underestimated the network traffic that resulted from the smartphone buying frenzy combined with “unlimited” data plans. I would have thought that the uptake curve was more predictable given their experience with the introduction of long distance plans.

    Still, no matter what the reason, you may have a good case to go forward to the CRTC with this one, Alec. Depends, of course, on the fine print of your original contract.

  • http://twitter.com/jannymarie jannymarie

    Sasktel should have created 2 plans – unlimited within Saskatchewan and unlimited throughout Canada. I was actually going to sign up today for the Sasktel’s unlimited plan but now I’m not sure anymore.

  • Jon

    I agree that you should be grandfathered in but I believe all providers have the same type of clause regarding roaming outside of the home region.

  • Shelsea

    I personally have had nothing but terrible customer service, unexpected ‘fees’ and insane contract changes that pop up AFTER a problem is reported. I will NEVER used sasktel again! Issues were not just for mobile but for land line, internet, and even their tv services. Never again!

  • http://saskboy.wordpress.com Saskboy

    Well said. When I was traveling by Via last Summer, unknown to me, our unlimited cell data plan was probably being gouged by SaskTel, while I was feeling misplaced pride in my province’s telco’s data rate.

  • Andrew H

    Surley there is a lawyer willing to start a class-action against this crown.

  • todd

    I know that tehy did send out a text November 2011 to tell everyone on data that there would be this limit imposed Feb 1, and also it has been on my bills throughout the last few months. I am on hte road 25 days a month and it is going to suck, but I also realize that it is still cheaper for the most part than any other company, and most companies do not offer unlimited. If we want to blame, i think we should blame the iPads and other people watching full movies over the 4g network. Thats why we do not have unlimited from any other company. Also the slow down after 10gb doesnt reduce your email or normal browsing speed, but does hamper your video buffering!

  • Ripped off

    For everyone who doesn’t know, Sasktel is a government owned monopoly. They definitly should be acting with good moral judgment.

    Where are big-shot lawyers like Tony Merchant in all of this? I think he could eat these crooks for breakfast on the way to the office. I’ll sign the lawsuit!!!

    • M Martz

      Merchant is not interested. I have sent two requests to see if they can go after them with a Class Action. Never a reply.

  • http://www.tornadohunter.com Greg Johnson

    Fantastic post, could not have said it better myself. I feel that if they want to change the terms. Perfect, I should be able to freely get out of my contract. But thats not really the point. If I did this to any of my customers I would be getting a letter from the Better Business Bureau, Sasktel should be ashamed.

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  • Elliott

    Interesting that they changed their out-of-province data policy in Feb 2011. I signed a 3 year contract for a data stick in June 2011 and was informed that it was unlimited within Canada. It wasn’t until early 2012 that they sent me notice that they were changing the terms of the contract. Turns out that unlimited outside SK was not IN the contract. My bad for not reading it, but who does?

    Now I live in Vancouver and the stick hasn’t been outside the computer bag in months. I’m stick with two years remaining on the contract or pay them $20/month for each month remaining.

    In this instance, they suck.

    • Guest

      No, not just in this instance, but in every and all instances they suck so bad that it is a sick joke already. I am a farmer in rural Saskatchewan and unfortunately stuck with the worst telecomm on the planet. If SaskTel had to compete with real business they know they would be finished tomorrow. I don’t believe a word they say anymore its a step beyond the boy who cried wolf. Yet they have the nerve to brag about there profits. Fair use, he, he. what a load, there are more people in Edmonton than our crappy province in total. Crooks to say the least, not to mention probably the worst management in the world and a bunch of candy asses that don’t know the definition of
      customer service. (the management that is.)

  • http://twitter.com/courosa courosa

    Thanks for your recent comment, Elliott. I haven’t posted an official update to this post but I spoke to Sasktel customer service (via Phone and Twitter) and they have changed their official policy on this. They have confirmed that customers that signed BEFORE Oct 1/11 will NOT be charged for Canadian roaming, BUT will be reduced to a reduced speed after 250 MB outside of SK (in that monthly period). Therefore, you will be OK in terms of charges, but after your 250 MB, your speed will be reduced to a high-speed lite-like experience.