iPad will rewrite Canadian wireless pricing – cheap AT&T-like rates must come here, too

By Carmi Levy, independent technology analyst and journalist

The clock is now ticking. Apple’s iPad hits U.S. retailers April 3rd and migrates north of the border sometime before the end of the month. The gamechanger in all of this isn’t the device, however. It’s the pricing model for 3G service that AT&T will follow – and how it could potentially push Canadian carriers to follow suit.

AT&T is rolling the dice with a data plan map that breaks all the rules. First, at $15/month for 250 Megabytes of usage and $30 for unlimited access, it’s a lot less expensive than smartphone traditional data plans. Second, it doesn’t require a contract, so consumers can opt in and out and back in at will.

To Canadian consumers and businesses long used to paying more for less, a near-total lack of unlimited-data availability and near-universal 2-to-3-year lock-in, the prospect of an AT&T-like wave rolling into Canada is almost too good to be true.

Now, I’m not privy to the carriers’ plans, so I don’t know if they’re planning to be similarly bold when the iPad comes to Canada. But I’m an optimist, and I’m presuming they read this. So here goes:

Dear RogBellUs,

We’ve been watching AT&T’s plans for the iPad rollout with great interest, and we’re hoping you are, too.

See, we understand that Canadian data rates have to be more expensive than American ones because you’ve got to build networks just as extensive as those in the U.S. with only one-tenth the market size to recoup your investments. But that excuse can only carry you so far, and at some point we’ll all need to get real about what it truly costs to deliver wireless service to Canadians, and what constitutes a fair amount of profit for you and your stakeholders.

AT&T is taking a chance with its data-only price structure. I’m sure the carrier is running scared as it tries to prolong its iPhone exclusivity with Apple. And I realize there are structural differences between data plans for smartphones and similar plans for tablets, ebooks and other non-traditional devices.

But at the very least, AT&T’s move opens the door to a discussion about how much carriers should charge for such access, and how these decisions affect how we use this stuff. Because from where I sit, restrictive, expensive rate plans don’t just reduce the appeal and growth of wireless. They damage our economic competitiveness, too.

Long ago, Internet Service Providers charged dial-up access by the minute. With the meter running, we got online, ripped through our tasks as quickly as possible, then disconnected. The Internet only became a creative platform for us all once the shackles were removed and we could use it without a stopwatch. Wireless in Canada is still stuck in the metered stage, and AT&T’s move shows at least one carrier sees the writing on the wall. I hope you’re paying attention. The very future of wireless service in Canada – and our status as either a technological have or have not nation – hangs in the balance. I trust you to make the right call.

Sincerely, Carmi

Carmi Levy is an independent technology analyst and journalist based in London, Ontario. He comments extensively in a wide range of media, and works closely with clients to help them leverage technology and social media tools and processes to drive their business.

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