Early Friday morning, while many Canadians were lining up to purchase Apple’s new iPhone 3G, others were participating in an online protest against unfair mobile phone contracts.
Consumers line-up in a Toronto mall to buy the new iPhone 3G.
Consumers lined up at stores in major Canadian cities that opened their doors two hours earlier for the launch. A line formed in front of Rogers’ downtown Toronto store as early as 4:00 a.m.
“For sure they’re going to be sold out here in Canada,” says Mark Tauscheck, senior analyst with Info-Tech Research Group. “For sure there’s going to be a shortage for weeks to come.”
But while some consumers embraced the sleek new product, others decried the contracts Rogers Wireless and Fido Wireless are offering up with the iPhone.
A Toronto-based Internet marketing company Oilchange.com organized a Webcast protest that attracted 700 simultaneous viewers.
The Webcast began at 10 a.m., when many Rogers stores across the country were opening their doors.
“We believe that if pressure is kept up on Rogers and other cell phone companies, there will be adjustments in the future,” says Jamie Lynch, co-founder of Oilchange.com.
Lynch had also helped organize an online petition calling on consumers to not purchase the iPhone. That had attracted more than 60,000 signatures by Friday morning. The group is asking for an unlimited data plan and pricing more in line with what U.S. iPhone customers are charged.
The petition will be delivered to Rogers in a hard copy, Lynch says. “Due to the need to scrub out the duplicate entries that have occurred over the last two weeks, we’ll try to do it today, but it may be on Monday.”
Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South), who participated in the Webcast, praised all those involved in the protest.
“Crowds lining up to purchase the iPhone in Canada “are a lot thinner than in other cities, we’ve heard,” the MP pointed out.
Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South).
That isn’t because Canadians are not tech savvy, he said. “It’s the same reason Canadians have low cell phone usage rates generally…the pricing and confusion is frustrating Canadian consumers.”
But lineups at a Fido booth at the Scarborough Town Centre mall in Toronto were enough to sell the location out of the 25 phones it had on hand, according to the clerk at the store who did not want to give his name. The booth called in all their staff for a busy sales day.
Customers also lined up in front of a Rogers store in the same mall, waiting patiently for the doors to slide open.
Fido customer Chuck Ortiz was in line, waiting to swap his older model iPhone for the new 3G version. Rogers’ promotional data plan giving 6 GB of download a month for $30 is fair enough, he says.
“People should just get over it,” Ortiz says. “That’s a pretty decent deal. It’s close to unlimited – how many people will use more than six gigs?”
Rogers responded to consumer demand when they introduced the promotional plan last week. But only customers who activate their iPhone before the end of August can take advantage of the rate.
That solution is not good enough, Lynch says. He called the temporary plan inadequate and panned Rogers’ defence of their lack of an unlimited package because they don’t want to charge customers for services they don’t use.
“If they really cared about this, they would roll unused minutes of their customers over to the next month,” he says.
If the initial demand for the new iPhone dies down and people aren’t inclined to pay for the other plans, Rogers may introduce a more permanent solution, Tauschek says.
“The backlash against the initial iPhone plan forced Rogers’ hand,” the analyst says. “My guess is they’ll probably extend the plan or find some sort of compromise.”
It’s consumer demand – not politicians collecting signatures on a petition – that will make phone companies listen, Tauschek says. Holding public office doesn’t mean much influence in the telecom sector.
“I see it as unlikely that they’ll have any impact other than basically saying they agree with their constituents, and they want to make it look like they care about them and they’re on their side.”
Only the CRTC can make a difference, he says.
McGuinty, meanwhile, is promoting a petition in support of his Bill C-555 or “Get Connected Fairly Act.” The bill asks the government to ban the system access fee that all cell phone companies add to consumers’ monthly bill.
“My bill is not about opposing profit and trying to regulate these companies out of existence,” hey says in the Webcast. The wireless industry collectively earned a profit of $4 billion last year and is a healthy sector.
McGuinty also wants the CRTC to make a public inquiry into the marketplace and investigate whether full disclosure is being made to consumers about what they’re paying for, and whether contracts can be changed on a whim.
Rogers was also invited to participate in the Webcast, but did not send anyone to speak.