Canada’s hated System Access Fee is alive and well

Device activation and SIM card charges are the wireless industry’s unholy offspring.

bill, wireless bills, wireless code, system access fee

System Access Fee:

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Remember the System Access Fee? It’s that inexplicable charge that Canadian cellphone providers used to tack on to customers’ monthly bills to pay for the privilege… of being their customers.

New carriers Wind and Mobilicity helped kill off the blatant gouging by not charging the System Access Fee, which typically came in between $6 and $8 a month. Embarrassed, Bell, Rogers and Telus had no choice but to follow suit.

Industry boosters will suggest this was competition at work, but the new carriers wouldn’t have even existed had it not been for government intervention in the way wireless spectrum is doled out. So really, it was the Feds who indirectly killed the fee.

Worry not, Big Three shareholders, because the System Access Fee is alive and well, in a way. It has simply morphed into other completely unwarranted charges.

Key among these are the fees that big carriers levy for activating a phone and for new Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards.

As CBC reports, Bell and Rogers customers pay $15 and $20 to activate a device on their respective networks.

The same goes for SIM cards, without which a phone also cannot connect to a network. Bell charges $9.95, Telus $15 and Rogers $9.99 if the customer doesn’t buy their device through the company.

These aren’t recurring monthly charges like the System Access Fee was, but they’re based on the same logic – namely, they’re devoid of it. They are unequivocally naked cash grabs.

A particularly friendly or helpful customer service agent might waive the fees for customers who object to them, but they’re just as likely to enforce their employer’s rigid, never-ending quest for bigger and bigger piles of lucre. Logic isn’t big with many of these individuals.

Case in point: I recently switched to a better plan with my provider, Rogers’ Fido sub-brand. In doing so, I lost my free Spotify premium subscription and access to the carrier’s roam-like-home feature, which allows customers to use their existing plan in the United States for $5 a day.

Since I frequently take short trips to the U.S., I asked a service rep to reinstate the roaming provision, otherwise I’d revert to using Roam Mobility, a third-party roaming service based in Vancouver. Roam Mobility’s rate is similar, but requires me to switch my SIM card when I cross the border.

In simple terms, I pointed out to the Fido rep that the company could either get some roaming revenue from me, or none. With rigidity and illogic being the rule there, it should come as no surprise which option he took. Congratulations are due to Rogers for delivering my business to a different company.

My personal anecdote is the reverse of the unwarranted activation and SIM card charges, but again, it shares the same DNA. The Big Three extract money from customers in ways that can’t be justified, and they also turn it down in the same way.

One would hope that good sense or perhaps even competition would solve this problem, but that’s like hoping to see a real live unicorn some day. It just isn’t going to happen.

One could also hope that policy makers might also somehow force carriers into adopting logic or – failing that – ban unfair fees altogether, but that never works out. After all, we might not have activation and SIM card charges if the feds hadn’t killed the System Access Fee in the first place.

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2 Comments on Canada’s hated System Access Fee is alive and well

  1. Jonathan Bruelle // May 12, 2017 at 12:40 pm // Reply

    Your article is biased! The “system access fee” (typically $6.95) was a blatant rip off technique as it was an ongoing monthly fee and had nothing to do with “improving” an existing system or furthermore, as they tried to claim, assist with better access to “911” systems. As for the fees you’re trying to convince people are a rip off, they are “activation” fees. As a consumer, this fee I would much rather forego but do understand its implementation. As a business, the major telecom companies should waive this fee as a show of good faith that your business is appreciated. On the contrary, it costs money to set up an account as well as provide reliable service not to mention quality customer service. Freedom Mobile (formerly WIND) has terrible service for many although for a majority, the service will suffice. For the longest time, Freedom Mobile charged $25 for their SIM as a replacement where the majors would charge $10. It wasn’t until the Freedom customers lodged complaints via telephone, facebook and twitter that they finally caved and reduced to $10. Also, I would rather pay higher monthly fees and an “activation” fee for quality of network and customer service rather than a semi-functional network (until Shaw improves) as well as EXTREMELY terrible, mostly overseas customer support. As for your claim of “roam like home”, Fido (Rogers sub brand) does offer this but it’s contingent on the plan you opt in for. Fido, just like Rogers and all other carriers only offer it on specific plans. This is their right to operate on whatever business model they choose. Just like WIND is was only offering WiFi calling on specific devices contrary to them saying it was a software roll out issue. It was not, but instead a business decision. In the end, they are now offering it effective May 15th for all devices but just like their LTE network, their pricing model is changing and will continue to change to accommodate roll out of a stronger network. With their pricing structure and new “boost” program, it’s not much different than the main telecom companies and for a base plan on both ends including a phone, you’re saving about $25 total for a higher quality network. I think as a blogger, you should evaluate your abilities to compare mobile and be less biased or better informed.

  2. yerallnuts // May 13, 2017 at 5:16 am // Reply

    The entire system is a rip-off; from paying $15/Gig to buy some extra capacity to, as you pointed out, the activation fees and charges for SIMs and for 911 service and the rest.

    However, and for the readers, I used to use Roam Mobility for my US access, but have switched to Freedompop who can give me a Canadian phone number and 200 minutes of US calling/month (I also have an extra 100 minutes of international calling), 500 text messages/month and a basic 200 megs of LTE data (which is easily ramped to 500 megs and can be expanded by another 500 megs with a truly trivial amount of clicking each month) FOR FREE.

    Cost of admission? I paid ONE PENNY, SHIPPING INCLUDED to get started though that was on a special. I think they charge $1.99 now.

    Monthly rate? FREE unless you want more than the basics listed above.

    They may not be around forever, but why load an iRoam card with minutes and pay even 9 cents when you can get it for free?

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