Telecom Service Providers Insist on Replacing Fully Functioning Cell Phones

Between the end of the 3G network, irresistible offers from cellular providers and our own psychological obsolescence, are mobile devices doomed to an untimely death? We asked our readers and experts.

“Reminder: change of mobile device required. The title of this email from Videotron leaves little room for doubt as to the possibility of keeping an old cell phone. It then specifies that it is the abandonment of the 3G network that would justify this change: “The device you are currently using is supported by a network that will be gradually decommissioned by telecommunications providers”, is it writing. All of this comes with a “generous discount” to get a new mobile device.

No time horizon is then specified, while several companies have already indicated that this abandonment will not be in force before 2025. As a reminder, this 3G network which made it possible to integrate the Internet on mobiles has gradually entered into disuse, being given that we consume more and more data, and more and more quickly.

This Videotron customer who sent us these communications said she was overwhelmed by the quantity of emails received, which she described as “relentlessness”. To clarify her situation, she calls customer service where she is given a completely different version of the facts: all you have to do is activate the VoLTE function on her Galaxy A50 device and that’s it!

The same situation happened to Pierre Lefebvre, a customer of this company for more than 40 years. This resident of Rosemont in Montreal bought his first new cell phone in 2019 with the intention of keeping it as long as possible, he who has always been content to take back his daughter’s old cell phones. With the explanations of the seller on the Galaxy A70, he had concluded “that it would be perfect for several years”.

But “now I am told that I have to change it as soon as possible”. In any case, this is the conclusion that he draws from the communications he receives from his supplier. However, his model is also displayed as “VoLTE certified”, at least on the Videotron network.

The company’s media relations explain that indeed some devices are not compatible on “partner networks”, which means that they could lack mobile coverage in certain regions of Quebec or Canada and in the United States. United.

In an email sent to Dutywe then ensure that “each customer concerned by this change [abandon graduel du réseau 3G] therefore received an email relating to his own situation”. Customer emails sent to Duty and disseminated on some online forums do not seem to take into account the personal model, however.

Mr. Lefebvre says he has no indication that he could extend the life of his device by activating a simple function. He will take the necessary steps to find out if he is “partially compatible”, as defined by the Videotron publicist.

“I really jumped, because for me, four years is not outdated. And don’t come talk to me about the environment after that! laments Mr. Lefebvre.

All these too banal practices

The repeated incitements to get a new telephone obviously do not date from the abandonment of the 3G network, and are not limited to this company alone. They are in fact so common that you don’t notice them anymore.

We asked our readers on several online platforms if they were frequently asked to change cell phones, even for devices that were still fully functional. In less than a day, we had received about sixty responses.

Kéven Gélinas, contacted in Saint-Raymond-de-Portneuf just before his vacation, says in particular that he was almost forced to accept a new device. Owner of an iPhone 11 Pro that he bought himself in 2019, he contacts his provider Telus to obtain a new plan on promotion. “They told me that I couldn’t get the discounts without a new device […] So I picked up a new phone that I don’t use” worth $825, says this retired Canadian Army.

On the phone, we explain to him that it is for him to sign a two-year contract. “It’s loyalty from their point of view, but it’s a bit of being attached to the company,” he says. According to him, “it’s a big waste”, he does not hesitate to say, especially since his iPhone is still a very powerful device with excellent features.

A public relations officer at Telus confirms that “some of our discounts mention the obligation to purchase a new device”. She does not have enough information to be able to assess this particular case, she says, however.

A Bell customer is not left out either: barely two months after acquiring a new cell phone, the text messages started encouraging him to get a new device. “I find it really too fast,” said Jean-Christophe Boivin, resident of Gatineau.

Sylvie Provost, a resident of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, felt compelled to ask the seller who was sending her personalized text messages: “Please don’t harass me, I like my phone. “How did we get here?” she asks on the phone, saying she also understands that the market is very competitive.

After ecocosts and repairability, the reduction?

While Quebec tabled a bill on planned obsolescence on 1er last June, reduction at the source remains an aspect that is too neglected in terms of electronic devices. “It’s a whole system that needs to be transformed, when we see that the business model is based on the rapid replacement of devices,” says Annick Girard, consultant in environmental communication.

She participated in conducting a large study in 2018 on obsolescence for Équiterre and the Responsible Consumption Observatory. It was determined that “less than 50% of consumers recognize that they play a role in the phenomenon of obsolescence”. Few of the respondents to this survey then kept their device for as long as the lifespan they themselves considered reasonable.

“But we can’t put everything on the back of the consumer,” continues Mme Girard. “Company marketing tactics such as promotions, loyalty programs and plan changes have a significant influence on obsolescence,” the research team’s report also stated.

We are talking here about “psychological” or “relative” obsolescence, rather than “programmed”, the most famous type. It is then a question of a perception of the consumer who regards the product as having become unattractive or unsatisfactory. “It’s comparable to fashions in clothes. The function is still fulfilled, but marketing makes you buy something else,” explains Marlène Hutchinson, affiliated with the University of Sherbrooke and founder of an eco-tax company.

Before obsolescence, Quebec legislation tackled recovery and recycling, particularly with eco-fees and the principle of extended producer responsibility.

Companies are now responsible for the end-of-life management of the products they market, with mixed results in the case of electronic waste. Even a target as low as 25% recovery rate still seems far from being achieved for cell phones.

And for the reduction at the source, “it is not yet written black on white, there is no target in the regulations”, observes Mme Hutchison. Like her, Annick Girard believes that the regulatory framework should be strengthened to truly see “structural changes”. And in the meantime, “the consumer must put on his panties”, concludes Mme Hutchison.

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