Bell Canada's Marketing Failure :
There is a certain inevitability about monopolies. Originally formed either through government fiat or indifference, they prosper at the expense of choice, and become captive to a narrowing perspective at odds with the rest of the marketplace. And, as Aristotle tells us that dictatorship is tyranny, so monopoly equates to similar abuses.
Is VOIP ready to replace conventional Home Phone Service?
But tyranny is the author of its own demise. It's excesses create a concerted resistance that eventually topples its ailing and corrupted hulk. And so it goes with our Canadian telecom monopolies - and - who have lived off the fat of the land and prospered mightily, treating customers as mere supplicants, while at the same time managing to convince government that their exclusivity in the marketplace serves the public good.
Well, where once that argument could be justified, those days are gone, and newer, internet-based technologies now by-pass their domains of exclusivity, providing consumers for the first time with choice in the marketplace, and thus an opportunity to act in their own best interests - especially considering that these new technologies are better and less costly than those of the telecom tyrants.
The case at hand
Like many Bell Canada customers, I have had reason to feel less than well-disposed towards the company. Years of being subjected to its business practices have driven me to actually take risks in pursuit of alternative telephone service providers. Talk about a marketing failure!
Oh, I understand that Bell's practices are a function of their historic monopoly and resulting lack of accountability, rather than a concerted effort by them to cause pain. I also understand that they suffer from the all-to common failure of many businesses to cater and quickly adjust to the changing needs and opportunities of the marketplace.
But that doesn't alter the fact that, because of Bell's practices, hours have been co-opted from the lives of customers pursuing service promised but denied. Or that customers have had their stress levels increased lavishly, and their net worth decreased with breathtaking audacity for services that, when provided by others, are considerably less costly.
At last, pay back!
When local phone services were deregulated in Canada, there was a rush to Bell's competitors, based, one can surmise, purely on the general feeling of ill-will. But, because of the historic monopoly that gave them ownership of the most ubiquitous data pipe to every home - the phone line - there were no competitors for conventional phone service. Competition thus came from the monopoly owners of the other data pipe - the Cable Companies. Naturally, given the opportunity for the first time to poke Bell in the eye with impunity, there was a rush from Bell to cable-based phone service, despite the comparable rate.
But, wouldn't you know it, the curse of the monopoly came into play, and companies like Rogers Cable kept under-delivering, over-charging and, it seemed, generally treating customers as an inconvenience.
One tactic, for example, is to build system capacity only after its been sold, and is generating the revenue you need for the capital costs. This is based, no doubt, on an algorithm that shows precisely how poor a level of service performance your customers will accept, without unduly effecting the bottom-line.
It's a pretty cynical way to do business, and, absent the scale, market dominance, lack of competition, or capitalization of these behemoths, any other business doing so would almost certainly fail.
So what to do?
Right off the top I decided against wireless as a viable alternative to Bell's phone service, based largely on the cost. Comparable wireless services would cost at least twice as much as those offered through a land-line, and would in any case simply involve different branches of the same carriers, with the same fundamentally flawed business practices.
That left only one possibility. Having discounted conventional land-line, cable or wireless service, the only remaining technology was VOIP - Voice over internet protocol - sometimes referred to as an "internet phone", and initially popularized by , and most recently by .
Back in the day...
My first introduction to VOIP had occurred a few years previously, when leading the development of web-based applications to manage VOIP systems for , an early provider of systems that could double as both a network and phone system for SME's. The challenge was not only to bridge the new and legacy technologies, but also to develop a user paradigm that took full advantage of what a browser interface could accomplish.
Now, rather than having to program a complex phone system with a 12 key phone pad, through multiple menu levels, one had simply to point and click. What a breakthrough! - even Bell bought the system from Mitel.
The problem however was that high-speed internet service was not at that time sufficiently refined or reliable, which meant generally inconsistent performance, despite the merits of the system. Since legacy PBX systems had, after 50 years of implementation, raised the performance bar pretty high, customer tolerance for remotely less-than perfect performance was just about zilch, so up-take for early VOIP was sluggish at best.
Darwin was right
Fast-forward to now, and broadband service is as reliable as legacy phone systems, and small, competitive VOIP providers are thick on the ground. With tiny capital costs, (when compared to legacy phone systems), VOIP is a thriving internet-based industry with multiple players at every market level, virtually unconstrained by national boundaries or telecommunications regulation.
It's quite simply the perfect demonstration of Darwin's theory applied to phone communications.
While VOIP provided the perfect theoretic solution for my telephone services, there was still the problem of the pipe - how would I get the phone services delivered to me?
Dancing with the devil
I quickly realized that any solution had to include the carriers that owned the existing data-pipes in my neighborhood - either Bell Canada or Rogers Communications. Both companies, for reasons already described, were guilty of appallingly cavalier attitudes towards consumers, and in a truly free market would have been bled white by competition. In a heavily regulated market, however, consumers have to swallow their bile and tolerate the nonsense due to a lack of alternatives. I would have to do just that.
Crazy but true
One of the great Canadian tropes is the extent of abuse by Carriers. It seems that everywhere there are bizarre or stories to tell. And, no matter how outrageous, these stories are all entirely believable, so low have the Carrier's reputations fallen.
My own experience, leading up to this, had to do with the broadband services I purchased from Bell. Bell uses a marketing tactic - sign-up for 12 months, get the first month free, and pay a lower rate - which I did. Except that in month thirteen, either your service disappears without warning, requiring hours and hours of phone work and vexation to remedy, or you get an invoice for 40% more than you were paying, because that old, low rate is only for new customers, not existing ones. How crazy is that?
So you're back to hours and hours of phone work and vexation with the poor folks in the off-shore call centre - who have to deal with customers already driven over the edge - to get things right again, and when you think it's all fixed, the next invoice arrives and its still wrong, and round and round we go. And if you try to get off this wheel of pain, there is the cancellation penalty to address, which requires that you get right back on.
After dealing with this over a period of years, I realized that I had become an enabler - complicit in corporate behavior that, if exhibited by a person, would surely have them diagnosed as a sociopath. I was no longer willing to do that, so I wrote to the CEO and told her.
Things are not always as they seem
Its been my experience that, more often than not, if a company is exhibiting such behavior, it's not by design, it's by accident. The executive and CEO understand fully well that that road leads to ruin. But the market will judge them on this quarter's results, so they apply pressure downwards, and the management layers closer to the ground, who have implementation responsibilities, start to cut corners, and loosen standards, because no-one is going to hold them accountable when business slowly bleeds away over 4 or 6 quarters, but they will get fired or loose their bonuses if the numbers don't improve over, say, the next two quarters.
As a consequence, when possible, I try to alert senior management when things have gone horribly, horribly wrong. Not surprisingly, folks generally are as appalled as I when they hear the details, and genuinely want things resolved - for the good of their company, but often also because it's the ethical thing to do.
The yellow brick road
Several days after my plea to the CEO of Bell's Internet services division, I get a call from someone who describes himself as simply "an assistant in the CEO's office". He has the accent of the impeccably mannered and well educated Quebecer. It tells you he is a native French speaker, but leaves you believing that he can converse equally well in English, Russian or Urdu, about Sartre, economics or hockey. Women love them, men want to be like them, etc, etc.
He explains, earnestly, that the CEO is deeply disturbed by my plight; has truly heard my anguish, and is anxious to apply any remedy that I desire. Well, it becomes the text-book case. The victim desires nothing but approval from their tormenter. His caring, dulcet tones, her warm sincerity, win me over completely. I feel that I've been touched, deeply, by something larger than mere "customer service", and I am healed.
The billing issues, I'm told, will disappear. I have the impression that my future monthly charges can be whatever I desire, but the new spirit of warm co-operation requires that I am fair and just, so I propose the previous year's rate, and so it continued without cease or difficulty for some time.
A three-legged stool
Available just about everywhere, satisfactory VOIP phone service at home requires three things :
Lose any one of these, and you better have a backup - a mobile cellular, for example.
- A fast, reliable internet connection
- A reliable VOIP provider with really, really good support
- Decent VOIP phone hardware.
A good pipe, fast and true
For my internet connection, I stayed with Bell, since it appeared that their administrative difficulties had been addressed. This required me to acquire the so-called "dry-loop" service from them, which they were happy to provide. This is essentially a "live connection", but with only broadband, rather than phone service.
I could have opted to get Internet services from the Cable company, but they tend to be unnecessarily more costly, and require that one also purchase Cable TV services, which we don't need since we suscribe to internet video services such as . A Cable internet connection is however an option for anyone that already purchases cable services.
VOIP providers - let the Buyer Beware
I wont deny it, your fears are justified - it is a jungle out there. But if you break down the elements of risk, and address them, you can avoid disaster.
Firstly, remember the adage "if it looks too good to be true, it probably is"? Just so. If a VOIP provider on the one end is charging $9.95 "unlimited use", versus $29.95 on the other end, you know that something's out of whack.
Assume, as a base cost, that a provider needs the basic infrastructure to offer the service. Additional costs occur in two other areas - scaling to increased demand, and customer support. Precisely the areas that you don't want your provider to cut. The former means performance failures, and the latter means there is no-one there to help when you need them most, or they don't have a clue how to help. So avoid the bargain - it's not!
The other end of the spectrum is the all inclusive, full feature, full price model, like . But why pay for features that you don't need, and, frankly, why pay as much as your conventional land line provider has been hosing you for all those years?
I was fortunate to find a provider somewhere in the middle, at . Apples to apples, I pay half as much as my old service, but I have added another line (because its so easy and inexpensive), so in total pay about 25% less than I used to, but I have in addition all the features included that I can possibly imagine, and easy system configuration through a web browser.
What initially attracted me to this provider was my inability to find online anyone with a bad word to say about them, and the fact that I could bundle services in a variety of ways, exactly as I needed, or pay per use. Its also really easy to get additional numbers or to keep your existing number.
But what has really got me sold has been the customer support, because I ran into an unusual problem initially, and they did all the hand-holding that anyone could possibly need or want. As I have said before, successful marketing is all about the customer service.
New phones are better
The third leg of the VOIP stool is the additional hardware needed to get the system working. This can be either a VOIP specific phone, or an adapter that enables your existing phone to function with VOIP. I opted for the latter, since there is a much wider variety of regular analog phones, which have more and better features.
I purchased online a Panasonic DECT 6.0 enabled phone . I generally use Panasonic phones because the sound quality is higher - especially their digital answering machine.
The has 4 Cordless handsets, standard rechargeable batteries, answering machine to screen callers, speaker phone, more features than I can even grasp, and best of all, "Using text-to-speech technology, the Caller ID information is announced between rings."
Exactly. When you are in the middle of say, a workout, the phone rings and actually announces "call from - insert name of child, wife, girlfriend, boss, etc". And if a Callcentric subscriber, you get to customize the Caller ID info yourself, so it says "call from the slave-master"... or whatever you wish. The possibilities are only limited by your level of maturity. Oh yes, we have lots of fun with this feature around here.
And because you get 4 handsets and bases for only marginally more money than two, you can hang on to the extras to replace those that get hard use.
This is a nice, light phone. You can plug in a headset/microphone, clip the handset to your pocket, and chat while you're doing barbecue, or knitting.
To get it to work though, I needed an adapter.
First time 'round
Following the advice from Callcentric, and after reading several reviews, I initially purchased a from . I found SunnyVoIP on ebay. His prices were best, and, coincidently, he is located in my home town, so obtaining the unit was easy.
Sometimes, it really is the equipment's fault.
The adapter setup process was a bit elaborate, but Callcentric provide excellent step-by-step instructions.
Despite this, in my case, the resulting sound quality was not good. There was also significant voice delay, and I couldn't connect to Cable telephone networks. Callcentric support worked diligently with me to improve quality, suggesting various configuration and codec changes. While performance improved as a result, I still didn't feel it was good enough. My baseline is that quality of performance needs to be virtually the same as conventional phone service.
Since I had tested the Callcentric system with a "softphone" - a phone application loaded onto my computer that requires neither a phone handset or VOIP adapter, just a headset and mike - I was pretty sure that the system itself was not the problem. I also tested the system with an older phone, and this produced the same poor results as the new one. I was left with the inevitable conclusion that the new HandyTone 486 was probably the culprit, despite assurances from both Callcentric and SunnyVoip that this model had never shown such behavior before.
It was time to move on. Too much time and effort had already been spent. Would I have to simply give up on VOIP, as something who's time had not yet come? Would I have to swallow my pride, crawl back to Bell, and pay the $50 re-connect fee/penalty, as well as their inflated prices in perpetuity? And, would I have to first spend the required hours on hold, getting bounced from rep to rep, and listening to the loop of their latest promotions, important new menu selections and bad music, all at different audio levels?
It was too horrible to even consider. On faith, I decided to simply get another adapter, but this time I would de-risk further, and go top-of-the-line, name brand, rather than good-value-but-good-rating, obscure brand.
You get what you pay for
I got in touch with SunnyVoip again, and we settled on a adapter. I purchased the SPA1001, their basic model, without router capabilities, since I already had the DSL router that came with Bell Internet service. SunnyVoip was pretty good about this, and promised to take the unit back if things didn't work out.
When setting up the Linksys, it immediately became apparent that you get what you pay for. It was faster and easier, and the user interface much better designed and much more clear than the HandyTone 486. And there are multiple configuration options that the HandyTone 486 just doesn't offer.
VOIP really works
Once setup and tested following the instructions provided by Callcentric, it was immediately apparent that the problem had indeed been adapter related. Quality and performance were now at least as good as conventional phone service. VOIP is, in other words, definitely ready for the home market.
At this point in time I have barely scratched the surface of available features from Callcentric , but telephony and communications are now far less costly, and system management is far easier. Rather than having to go through Bell to turn on or off features (at an additional cost), you can configure everything yourself, and all features are included in your base price.
My current favorite is to have office phone messages forwarded to my email, so I can more easily stay in touch when I'm at a client's location.
And whenever I get a spam call from the marketing department of my bank hyping a new promotion, the system automatically re-directs the call to their corporate headquarters without bothering me.
What about Bell?
Bell's rather bizarre business practices have become normalized to the extent that no-one seems surprised at them any more. But they are subject to greater forces than they can ignore or manage - because of their historical baggage and because the marketplace, new technologies and more uncompromising consumer attitudes are passing them by - and only something dramatic and life threatening will change their course.
Perhaps this will be VOIP. It has certainly made their core business - conventional home phone - redundant. But, fully consistent with the exclusively inward-looking tendencies of their kind, they apparently have no plans to adapt to the marketplace and offer VOIP home services themselves, or to change the way they .
There are many things that Bell can do to get them out of their rut, but it all starts with being customer-centric. Are they meeting customer needs in the marketplace? ... or in terms of customer service? If this was their focus, they could turn it around. Alas, they appear to be more concerned with improving their P.R. spin than they are about making changes to their operating practices.
My advice? Try VOIP, following the steps I took - if not onlyu for the improved service, then certainly to give yourself a break from Bell's higher prices and lower level of service. If enough of us do it, that life-changing event may occur and save the company!
comment by Frank Nash
Thanks for the VoIP tips. Happy to hear there is an alternative to Bell and Rogers home phone service.
comment by Cheryl
Hey thanks! I really needed this information!
comment by Cara
Wow! What a great article. You didnt miss a thing.
I am also looking for an alternative to Bell (whom I already left) and use a Prepaid Fido Cell (using an international card BEYOND CANADA from CALLINGCARDS.com which proves to be really cheap even for long distances within the province of Quebec and Canada). Learned my lesson after calling a friend in the South of France without using a prepaid card. Outch! I think the call was 20min. and 40$ (instead of 2$). Live and learn...
However, the processus you went through seems to be too technical for my little brain (only on computer matters) and so I guess, there isnt much choiice, except waiting for a new product that will make it easier for me to handle.
Thanks a million for taking the time to write that wonderful article. Hope BELL gets to read it ...
comment by Justin
Ive been into Internet Telephony for quite some time now, and my favorite VOIP providers (both due to low cost, quality and feature rich-ness) are the following:
Cantalk9000, FreePhoneLine.ca, tk6000, CanadianMagicjack.com, vbuzzer, Callcentric, Acanac, vonage, ooma
Hope that helps some of you with your research. Right now I pay around fourty dollars per year for my phone service (unlimited calls to us/canada, caller id, call waiting, etc). Just stay away from The American Magicjack that relys on your computer to be on all the time, that is the cheapest and crappiest one. The rest of them are fine.
comment by ZeeXT
Wow a very long article!
I must tell you, you might need to go through a couple of VoIP providers before you get the VoIP service thats right for you. Not all VoIP service are created equal so you need to research and read the fine print.
You also need to know your calling habits so you just dont sign up for something you dont need. If you seldom make outgoing calls but has lots of incoming calls then getting an unlimited outgoing service is just a waste of your money.
I use Onesuite VoIP and it suits me better than the other voip providers and this is because I search first and made sure read those fine prints.
comment by glenn duncan
Thisis a great article. I am just starting to look into a new home phone provider because of the 240.00 cell phone bill my 16 year old incurred in 1 month through bell. She was receiving incoming texts that were not on her plan and she had no control over receiving them because she did not have the 15.00 per month service which was never told about. Bell said it was our fault and would not help out with the bill so I am deciding to get rid of them after 40 years and told them so. I had the same problems earlier with Rogers cell as well and got rid of them. I need a provider for home phone only because I use Rogers for my cable and internet and have not had a problem other than probably paying too much per month. I do not long distance so I need basic home services. Any suggestions.
comment by Lise Rodrigue
I truly appreciated your article. I left Bell last year in frustration and went to Distributel, only to become even more frustrated. To add insult to injury, their ISP provider is....you guessed it: Ma Bell!
I shall follow your advice.
comment by Fred
The upside to a traditional landline though is that it works if the power goes out. Voip connected to cable internet would need your computer to be powered. Unfortunately spending $70 / month for a phoneline with a few basic features from bell (free with me $40/m mobile plan) is too ridiculous. Im trying to avoid cellphone brain cancer..but $840 a year for a landline is insane.
comment by Bill
Thank you for this well-written article. VoIP takes care of my phone problem, now to get rid of my Satellite problem and get rid of Bell altogether. The way they conduct their business is comical...I get put on the "do not call" list and now I get 6 or 8 calls per week from........you guessed it,,the promotional people at Ma BELL! and if I have to watch those stupid VU instructional commercials much longer Ill go bald! Id go back to Cogeco, but theyre just as bad. Since I live on the border and have friends in the US, I think the answer is an to pay one of my American friends to get a second satellite receiver and keep the card updated through them.....much better programming and fewer h ###les.
comment by Fred
Bell did offer a VOIP service called Bell Digital Voice Lite around 2005. I was intimately involved with it. worked very well but was overpriced. got cancelled.
Most VOIP experts I know use VOIP.ms as their provider. Mulltiple DIDs, DISA for use with cellphone for cheap LD calls, multiple subaccounts etc etc
comment by Peter
I dont think it is possible to replace right now. I have a providers list website about Voip , based info what i have, there is no way right now to do it.
comment by Stan
I have been using a product called the Talkit.ca Home Phone system for the past year, $59.99 a year for the service, call quality is the same as Bell, in this case the price being too good to be true was way off, Im completely satisfied and encourage anyone looking for a home phone solution check these guys out.
comment by Jobin
very interesting article. I agree you must be careful with Voip providers as I have been burned in the past. Ive looked into the Talkit.ca service after Stans post and it has been pretty good so far. Had to purchase the hardware for $79.99 in the first year but no complaints with the service so far.
comment by Allan H
Excellent article. I am using Yak right now and although they charge 13.95 per month
They have excellent tech support which I needed because I am using a bell wireless modem router. After getting the bugs ironed out the sound quality has been great.
Bell cant match it for price.
comment by Bill
I use Bell HSPA Wireless hub for my hi speed internet. Will VOIP work for me?
comment by joseph
I would recommend talkit voip. I am using it and absolutely no problems. The sound quality is good. It was good to start with, but I hooked up a dsl filter to the talkit adaptor itself..PERFECT. A dsl filter can be purchased for about 2 or 3 dollars from any electronic store. When I phone talkit in Hamilton for something...bingo..they are right there to talk to you.
comment by Phil
Yes, I agree your comment on bell! For a company being here for long time, its strange they dont reduce prices. Did you know with bell mobility cost is the same as phone line? Enough is enough! Which Canadians voip services that allows paying monthly payments via online bill pay through Canadians bank? That I would like to know!
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