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.