Opinion: Hypocrisy goes mobile

I caught one of those funky Koodo Mobile television commercials the other day.

You know the ones. They feature that mustachioed guy in his fluorescent headband, gyrating energetically to the beat of increased savings. As a discount brand, their commercials tend to decry – even belittle – controversial mobile features such as ‘system access fees’ and long-term pacts as akin to devil-worship, or worse.

Having paid a system access fee to connect my long-term contracted phone, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of irritation. I’m locked in to my contract for three years. Stupidly, I also pay a system access tithe each month.

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And now Mr. Moustache was telling me I’d been silly to get sucked into such a pathetic arrangement in the first place. I felt like a fool.

But imagine my continued dismay when I discovered this ‘new’ and exciting mobile phone provider with the hip, retro advertisements is simply an extension of – wait for it – Telus Corp.

I’d originally thought it was one of those new networks emerging within Canada’s mobile market after the federal government’s bandwidth yard sale a few months back. Companies such as Globalive Communications Inc., Quebecor Inc., BMV Holdings and Bragg Communications Inc. all plan to launch networks in the coming months.

But no. Koodo is Telus’s so-called ‘discount brand,’ just like Bell Mobility has Solo and Rogers has Fido (it’s been reported that both of those discount brands have also waived the fee).

Of course, Telus and the other big carriers still charge system access fees – they earn the companies a combined $800 million per year, it’s been reported – and often require long-term contracts.

So what’s going on here, exactly? How can a company employ one business model, while at the same time running a subsidiary business attacking that very same model? It just seems a little … backhanded.

The good news, perhaps for customers, is that the companies can’t seem to stop squabbling amongst themselves. Bell and Telus are currently involved in a fight for a $213-million Global Defence Network Services contract, with Telus – who won the contract from Bell more than a year ago – accusing the former of refusing to serve transitioning customers.

All that aside, there’s nothing wrong with the existence of discount brands. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with the big companies doing whatever they like, within reason, to improve the profitability of their businesses.

But to consistently refuse the removal of these unpopular features in their main brands – even in the face of a class-action lawsuit, by the way – while simultaneously ridiculing those who pay system access fees on long-term contracts is not only insulting; it’s hypocritical.

But, perhaps most importantly, would Mr. Moustache be as excited if he knew he was really a Telus customer?

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