I love Canada, but there are three things that suck something fierce in my country (no, this post will not talk about taxes): banks, cell phone connections, and the Internet. These three areas are monopolized, which is never good because when there is a monopoly, competition dies. And when there is no competition, there is no incentive to provide goods and services that are even marginally decent.
Canadian banks charge you for every breath you take. Depositing, withdrawing, having an account – everything carries a fee. They mess up, steal your money, and charge you for this transaction. (This actually happened to me. National Bank of Canada stole $1,000 from me, and I could do nothing to get it back. They even recognized they messed up, but that money has never been recovered. By me, that is.)
They also have this weird policy of “freezing” any money you deposit. I deposit some money in cash, and can’t have access to it for days. If you deposit a check, it’s frozen at least for a week. If the check is American, your money is frozen for 30 days. I once deposited a check from the Treasury of the US in the amount of $250. And then I had to wait for 30 days for it to clear. I mean, I know the US Treasury is not in great shape, but you can reasonably expect it to be able to clear a $250 check, right? After I moved to the US, I kept bugging bank tellers, unable to believe how easy banking was in the US: “So you are saying that I can deposit this check and have access to my money immediately? Like, right now? Like, this very moment? For real?”
Canadian Internet banking is a story that I’ll keep for another day because it’s too bizarre. And if you dare to lose your bank card, woe betide you. You will be tortured and abused by the condescending bank tellers to the degree where you will start considering how great life was before the banking system came into existence.
The cell phone services in Canada are equally nasty. The quality of the connection sucks. Canadians know that there are specific places in their houses, apartments, offices, streets, where cell phone connection just dies. Every conversation I have with my sister who lives in Montreal is punctured by her saying “OK, I’m gonna get disconnected now. OK, the connection is about to drop again. Don’t hang up if the sound disappears, it might get back up in a minute.” And the cost of having a cell phone has always been sky-high. When I moved back to Canada for a year in 2007-8, I could never understand my cell phone bill. I kept thinking that somebody put the wrong number of zeros on the amount I owed. My happy-go-lucky American habit of blabbing on the cell phone all day long had to be abandoned.
The Internet connection is also expensive, slow and bad. In the US, you can always catch some free Wi-Fi somewhere, but in Canada it’s all password protected. Even in Starbucks, you can’t get free Wi-Fi. Every time I go back to Canada, I prepare to struggle with the Internet connection. As a blogger in the US, I’m used to being able to blog from pretty much anywhere. In Canada, though, I always feel disconnected from the world. Every trip to Canada is spent in a frantic search for a connection. And even if you are fortunate enough to find one, prepare for it to drop for no apparent reason at the worst moment possible.
As if things weren’t bad enough as it is, Canadian monopolists are now trying to make the Internet connection even harder to get and even more expensive:
The CRTC has decided to allow Bell and other big telecom companies to change the way Canadians are billed for Internet access. Metering, or usage-based billing (UBB), will mean that service providers can charge per byte in addition to their basic access charges. The move is sure to stifle digital creativity in Canada while the rest of the world looks on and snickers.
This is so wrong, people.