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Bell MTS cancels unlimited data plan for new customers

The only telecommunications company believed to offer truly unlimited data in Canada — Bell MTS — is pulling the plug for some of its customers.

On Tuesday, the company eliminated the flat rate for data usage for new customers, but existing customers can keep the promotion even if they change their phone, the company said.

Last year, CBC News found only MTS, before it was acquired by Bell, offered a true unlimited deal to all customers. Data speeds are reduced after a user burns through 15 GB.

Instead of unlimited province-wide data, Bell MTS is offering users a Canada-wide 15GB plan for $95 a month.

The cap "far exceeds the average customer use per month," Bell MTS said in a statement. Prices have increased by about $5 per month for new customers and existing customers after they upgrade or switch their device.

The company says the move is the first hike in its wireless prices since Oct. 2016.

Telecom expert Rose Behar, editor for the tech website MobileSyrup, says Bell CEO George Cope pledged to keep pricing the same for 12 months after the company's acquisition of Manitoba Telecom Services closed in March 2017.

A change in pricing was due, Behar says.

The telecom giant wanted to "start taking those Manitoba plans, which were much under the average pricing that they have across the rest of Canada, and bumping them up to be more in line with what they're offering in the rest of Canada."

She doesn't expect pricing relief for Manitoba consumers anytime soon.

"Whether one of the big three — Bell, Telus, Rogers — buys up a competitor, regional or smaller, they tighten their stronghold on the industry," Behar said. "Competition is lessened and therefore the pricing is higher."

Behar says price-conscious consumers might find a potential saviour with the pending arrival of Xplornet. The company might reintroduce a flat wireless plan to Manitoba and force the hand of national carriers, she says.

Unlimited data the norm in U.S. 

Competition may lead to unlimited wireless plans, as experienced in the United States. After T-Mobile disrupted the market by unveiling an unlimited plan in Aug. 2017, Sprint introduced its own version — at a lower price. Other carriers followed suit.

None of Canada's three big services offer unlimited wireless data plans.

Behar says the lack of competition nationwide is a concern. To address calls for affordability, the industry's regulator asked the biggest national wireless carriers earlier this year to create cheaper, data-only cellphone plans.

"I do believe that Canadians will eventually see unlimited data, just because of how much we're consuming and how mobile-first the world has become," she said. "It will take maybe a new player."

Correction : An earlier version of this story said existing customers could keep the unlimited data promotion as long as they don't change their plan.(Jul 11, 2018 4:26 PM)