iPhone welcomed to Canada by massive online protest

Today, as Rogers Wireless launches the coveted Apple iPhone, Canadian consumers and politicians will be blitzing the Internet to protest unfair wireless phone contracts.

A Toronto-based Internet marketing company that’s spearheaded an online campaign urging customers not to buy the 3G phone is holding a live Webcast at 10 a.m. on July 11.

The Webcast will conclude with the delivery of a hard copy of Oilchange.com’s RuinediPhone petition to Rogers. The petition, so far, has garnered more than 60,000 signatures online.

Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South) talks about his “Get Connected Fairly” act.

“We’re going to invite Rogers to participate and make a comment to people who are very angry about the pricing,” says Jamie Lynch, vice-president and co-founder of Oilchange.com. “People here are fed up at being overcharged.”

Rogers did respond partially to consumer clamour for a better data plan, by offering those who activate an iPhone before the end of August the opton to add 6 GB plan to any voice package for $30 a month.

“We heard a lot from our customers, they were very enthusiastic about the iPhone,” says Rogers’ spokesperson Elizabeth Hamilton. “They were very knowledgeable about how much data they need.”

It’s unlikely Rogers will accept the invitation to participate in today’s Webcast organized by Oilchange.com.

“We generally don’t respond to petitions or polls,” Hamilton says.

But at least one high-profile politician, Liberal MP David McGuinty — brother of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty — will be participating in the Webcast.

The Liberal environment critic says Rogers is using the iPhone as bait to lure Canadians into unfair contracts.

He said Rogers’ promotional price cut on its controversial iPhone plan “is very temporary and dubbed it a PR measure.

“I want a long-term solution to this problem.”

Many Canadian consumers are outraged that Rogers is charging more for its iPhone data plans compared with providers in the U.S. and the U.K.

Oilchange.com experienced first-hand, the difference between Canadian and American wireless plans.

Lynch said his company used to be a Rogers’ customer before it switched to Verizon “because we have a U.S. company that allows us to do that.”

The switch cut the company’s costs by $1,000 a month and allows employees to roam across Canada without paying extra fees.

“People are fed up, they’re educated, and now they want change,” he adds.

Widespread frustration and anger at Rogers’ iPhone price plans are not likely to slow down iPhone sales in Canada though.

Stores say they expect a busy day selling the new product. Stores in major cities across Canada that are selling the iPhone opened two hours earlier than usual this morning, Hamilton says.

“Everyone is very enthusiastic. There’s heavy anticipation for this device and it is going to be a very busy day.”

Inventory demands have been met, she adds. More iPhones are already on the way to Rogers.

McGuinty, meanwhile, uploaded a video to YouTube on Thursday to draw attention to his online petition in support of Bill C-555, which he introduced in the House of Commons last month.

If passed, the bill would require telecom companies to stop charging the system access fee and become more transparent in their billing.

System access fees were initially intended to raise revenues that help fund the cost of getting systems up and running, McGuinty says.

The federal government, he says, asked wireless phone companies to collect such fees in 1985 for the state, and for two years the money went to the Minister of Industry.

But in 1987 the government told companies to stop collecting the fees. They never did.

So for 21 years, wireless carriers have collected billions of dollars that many consumers mistakenly think are going to the government, McGuinty says.

“I became very concerned about what was happening in this entire sector.”

The online protests targeting Rogers’ iPhone price plans come in the same week two other leading Canadian wireless providers – Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility – have come under heavy fire for their  decision to charge pre-paid customers for incoming text messages.

An NDP petition against the fees drew 14,000 signatures within the first 36 hours of going online. An associated Facebook group ballooned to over 8,000 members – many of whom decried the changes and demanded ways to get out of their contracts.

“All companies that want you to sign a contract are trying to trap you. It’s the principle of captive clientele; you have them and if they want out, they will be sucked dry,” writes Marianne Martin from Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Comments range from complaints about the service to expletives fired at the two companies.

Consumer outrage also prompted Industry Minister Jim Prentice to act on the text message issue. He’s directed the CEOs of Bell and Telus to meet him in person to explain the new charges.

“I think it’s fair to say I’ve heard more on this issue from consumers than on probably anything else related to the cellular phone industry since I’ve become the Minister,” Prentice said in a public statement. “Regular folks across Canada who are very concerned about this have been expressing their concern.”

McGuinty, meanwhile, points to the great confusion in the mobile phone marketplace about provider prices and plans, and says his bill addresses that.

If passed, the bill would make it mandatory for cell phone retailers to post a simple fact sheet in their stores and on their Web sites specifying certain facts.

Consumers, the MP said, would be told “exactly what they’re buying, exactly what they’re getting, exactly what they’re being charged for, what charges can be changed or increased, why they should be varied or changed or increased, whether contract terms can be changed on the fly, [whether] the cell phone is going to be locked and why.”

McGuinty’s petition has been signed by 8,000 people as of Thursday.


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