2013-01-03

Breaking free of Bell & Rogers

A lot of people are surprised when I tell them how much (actually how little) we pay per month to stay entertained and connected with the rest of the world. They know I'm a gadget freak and a heavy user of my cell phone, TV, and Internet connection, so they expect that I'd be paying a lot more than they are for my service. Here's a rundown of our typical monthly expenses:


Cell Phones

My wife and I pay $30/month each for our smartphone data plans. We're both on Koodo's "Canada-Wide 30" plan which gives us:

  • 150 minutes, free evenings & weekends starting at 7PM
  • Caller ID, voicemail, call waiting, etc.
  • Canada-wide calling (no roaming or long distance charges anywhere in Canada)
  • Unlimited text and picture messaging
  • Free calling between our cell phones
  • 200MB of data.
The cost for extra data on this plan is 2¢/MB in 1 MB increments, so using 800MB extra for a total of 1GB in a month would add $16 to the bill. We're both usually around WiFi so the months where we use more than 200MB are rare. I had been on a 6GB plan with Koodo and with Rogers prior to that going back more than 3 years, and in looking at past usage my highest monthly total was 1.2GB. Since we don't go through very many voice minutes on our cell phones, this was by far the best plan for both of us, and since we're not on contract, we can switch plans the instant something even better comes along.

Our phones are both Google Nexus phones - a Nexus S for my wife and a Galaxy Nexus for me. Both phones are owned outright and are not locked to any carrier, so we can port our number to a different carrier and take our phone with us if a better deal comes along. I moved from Rogers to Koodo in the summer and my wife switched last month. In both cases our old phone number was working on the new carrier within an hour or two. We're happy with Koodo but we'd both be with WIND Mobile if they had better coverage in our part of the city.


Landline Telephone

For landline service at home we ported our Bell number to voip.ms a couple of years ago and have been using that ever since. For the calendar year 2012 our fixed + usage-based costs for the VoIP line were $111, or an average of just over $9/month. 63% of our calls were incoming calls and 26% of our outgoing calls were within our own area code, so I might be able to do even better now that I've got enough history to judge our calling patterns. Time spent on the line was just over 52 hours for the year, or about an hour per week on average. Clearly we're not big talkers, but that's probably because we use email and Facebook a lot to keep in touch with friends and family.

The big downside to any voice-over-Internet phone service is reliability. This is not your grandmother's telephone service with its own power source and near 100% reliability. On the other hand, we're paying less than $10/month and get caller ID, voicemail that sends our messages to us via email, and every calling feature under the sun. We have 911 service via our VoIP line which makes up $1.50/month of the cost of the service, but it means that 911 calls work in case we ever need them. The number of technical components involved in a VoIP line make it much less suitable for emergency use than an old fashioned POTS line, but we have our cell phones with us most of the time, so if the VoIP line is down in an emergency, we have other options. Most people I know (if they even have a landline) use cordless phones with a base station that plugs into a wall outlet. I bet many of them don't realize that their cordless phone is useless to them if the power goes out because the base station needs power. If you need 24/7 uptime for a phone line for emergency situations, stick with old fashioned phone service, but make sure you use a battery backup (a.k.a. an uninterruptable power supply) to power any phone that needs to plug in to AC.


Internet

Acanac cable Internet: $52/month for 28MB download, 1MB upload, unlimited usage.

Television

Free over-the-air HD using an antenna in our attic. We get CBC, Global, CTV, CTV2, Omni.1, Omni.2, City, CHCH, TV-Ontario, and 3 or 4 French channels, all in HD except CHCH which only transmits digital-SD in the Ottawa area. I'll have an entire article on the gear I'm using for this sometime in the near future.

We supplement that with Netflix ($8/month), Hulu Plus ($8/month), and use Unblock-US ($5/month) to be able to use Hulu and to view the US Netflix shows rather than the Canadian Netflix content. All of the above services are month-to-month so we can cut back any time we like. If we happen to miss recording a show and can't find it on Hulu, I can usually download a video of the show from various places on the Internet.

TV total: $21/month.

Total

If you add it all up, we spend roughly $142/month for two cell phones, a landline, Internet, and TV. Most couples I know are over $150 just with their cell phones and Internet, especially if they have smartphones with a data plan. A year ago when we were with Rogers for our cell phones and Bell satellite for TV, our monthly total was $258 before tax - our cell phone bill was $112/month and satellite was $77/month. We had Canadian Netflix but we didn't have Hulu or Unblock-US, so we added $13 in extra cost but saved $129 by making some changes.

My totals don't include HST, so factor that in if you want to get a better idea of the real number, but keep in mind that the American services like Netflix and Hulu don't charge HST because they don't have any business offices in Canada. The flip side is that some US-only services (like Hulu) bill in US dollars, so there will be a currency exchange charge by the credit card company, though with the Canadian dollar hovering around par with the US, it's not that bad. My December 2012 US$7.99 bill showed up as a Cdn$8.07 charge on my credit card.

Updates

March 2013
Koodo and some of the other wireless companies recently started offering a 10% credit to customers who bring their own phone; this is similar to the subsidy they would be giving you if you got a $500+ phone from them for $99 on a 3-year plan. For us, the result is that we get $3/month off each of our plans, so we're now $54+tax per month for two smartphones, which is $61.02 after HST. The $6.78/month savings is mostly offset by the fact that I got a Nexus 7 3G tablet in February, and signed up for Telus' tablet flex plan. The Telus plan costs a minimum of $5/month, but I'm on WiFi most of the time so I will rarely go above the 10MB threshhold that bumps the price up to $10 for 100MB. I wanted a 3G-enabled tablet for times when we travel, for reasons mentioned in the internet on vacation topic.
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