Telecom affordability

A report from PwC Canada takes a new look at the state of telecom affordability in Canada.

According to “Understanding the affordability of wireless and wireline services in Canada” [26-page pdf, 7.7MB] focuses on assessing three elements of Canadian telecommunications affordability:

  1. Canadian economics statistics, including telecommunications expenditure, inflation, and changing incomes.
  2. The assessment of wireless and wireline affordability in Canada, including assessing the changing prices of wireless and wireline services over time relative to increases in data consumption and changing patterns of data usage.
  3. The affordability of wireless and wireline services for Canadians against consumption and income metrics relative to global jurisdictions.

What did PwC find?

  • Canadians have been impacted by inflation, with inflation in 2021 and 2022 surpassing the rate of income growth. Prior to 2021, incomes were growing faster than inflation for every quintile except the highest.
  • Between 2017 and 2021, cellular services was the second largest CPI drop among the only 13 deflationary goods and services in the CPI bucket, falling at a CAGR of 8.1%. Driven by the decrease in cellular service CPI, communications was also a deflationary service, with communications CPI falling by 16% from 2017 to 2022.
  • Affordability increased for all quintiles when assessing the cost of entry-level wireless and wireline plans against adjusted disposable incomes. Notably, for the lowest income quintile, the affordability of entry-level wireline plans improved by 11% between 2017 and 2021, while wireless affordability improved by 39%.
  • The price per gigabyte of wireless and wireline data fell by over a 19% CAGR in Canada from 2017 to 2021. This is attributed to increases in data consumption significantly outpacing changes in prices, with data consumption growing at CAGRs of 24% for wireless and 28% for wireline. Among selected international peers, Canada has the second-lowest cost per gigabyte of wireline data.
  • The affordability of wireless and wireline services in Canada is on par with peer countries. As the CPI of Canadian communications has dropped, it has brought the price of services in line with international peers as a percentage of income, indicating relative affordability.
  • Together, the Canadian market and international analyses demonstrate that facilities-based competition in Canada is able to maintain a healthy telecommunications industry while delivering on network coverage, quality, and affordability

Earlier this year, I wrote, “Affordability is a complex and multifaceted concept that varies depending on the context and the goods or services being considered.”

The report looks at telecom affordability across various income quintiles, but it did not explicitly include a discussion of targeted affordable services such as the industry-led Connecting Families initiative. It is worth noting that Rogers recently introduced its Connected for Success 5G Wireless Program, promised as a benefit of the Shaw acquisition, and it has rolled out its broadband Connected for Success to the former Shaw footprint. TELUS offers Mobility for Good, among other targeted services, as I have described.

The PwC report lays out a fact-based narrative on telecom affordability in Canada, and paints a very different picture from the conventional wisdom.

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