This July 10, 2019, photo shows an Associated Press reporter holding a phone showing the Instagram app icon in San Francisco. Instagram is expanding a test to hide how many “likes” people’s posts receive on its photo-sharing app as it tries to combat criticism that such counts hurt mental health and make people feel bad when comparing themselves to others. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Major parties rallying around telecom pricing issue as election nears

All the major parties are pledging to find ways of curbing increases to telecom rates

Consumer advocates say a rare consensus is forming among the major political parties ahead of the federal election that Canadians need protecting from gouging by the country’s big telecom companies.

It’s being called phone-bill populism, and it could be a make-or-break issue for the parties as they head toward the Oct. 21 vote.

Allan Thompson hears about it constantly as he knocks on doors in communities across the Ontario riding of Huron-Bruce, where he’s running as a Liberal candidate.

Seniors are most likely to raise the issue, Thompson says, as they give him an earful about the ever-rising cost of living in general.

“But then (seniors) are also the most likely to be at home when I knock,” he said.

READ MORE: CRTC launches review of cellphone financing to probe fees by telecoms

Even before the official campaigning begins, all the major parties are pledging to find ways of curbing increases to telecom rates.

The New Democrats under Jagmeet Singh laid out their plan for reducing wireless and internet-service rates, announcing in June they would impose a “price cap” on monthly bills that they estimated will save households about $10 a month for each service.

The NDP plan would see rates matched to an average across the 36 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the party said.

Recent media reports have indicated the Trudeau Liberals are preparing a campaign pledge to reduce cellphone and internet costs either through a cap on monthly bills or by requiring major service providers to offer mobile virtual-network operators (MVNOs) wholesale access to their infrastructure. Those are smaller companies that don’t own wireless networks but pay bigger companies for the right to use theirs, re-selling that access under their own brands.

Trudeau himself has acknowledged telecom services in Canada are costly and has vowed to do something about it.

“We recognize that Canadians shouldn’t be paying more for their already very expensive internet and communication services and that’s something that we will take into account as we move forward to ensure that the system is fair for everyone,” Trudeau said last Monday at the close of the G7 summit in France, when asked about the possibility of taxing digital services.

The Conservatives under leader Andrew Scheer have criticized the Liberals for being ineffective on the subject, noting the prime minister has had plenty of time to reduce end user rates since coming to power in 2015.

“Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have been in power for four years, and have done nothing to make life more affordable for Canadian families,” Scheer’s press secretary Daniel Schow said in an emailed statement.

The Tories, however, have not laid out their own plan to deal with a rising household cost, choosing instead to wait until the campaign begins.

“We will have more to say about our plan to make life more affordable and to help Canadian families get ahead in the coming weeks,” Schow said.

The Green party has also pledged to “mandate affordable cellphone plans,” without providing specifics.

Industry players warn that attempts at rate-fixing could result in reduced investment in critical infrastructure, particularly as Canada heads toward development of 5G networks across the country.

Canada’s telecom industry group, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), argues that the high costs Canadians pay for services have been necessary to help build one of the fastest, most reliable cellphone and internet infrastructures in the world.

“Our members want to continue to build out to ensure that more Canadians get connected, and that we have world-class networks and that we are ready for 5G, because the 5G economy is going to be the future for those countries that are able to get there and deliver those networks,” CWTA president Robert Ghiz — a former premier of Prince Edward Island — said in an interview.

“That will lead to GDP growth and will make sure that Canada can remain competitive.”

If rates for internet, cellphone and other telecom services are a political football, that’s the fault of the service providers, says consumer-rights advocate John Lawford of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

“The companies have done nothing to take themselves off the radar of the political parties,” said Lawford.

“Low-income Canadians are spending, according to the (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) and Statistics Canada, about 10 per cent of their income on communications services,” he added.

“That’s double what it should be.”

Consumer watchdog organization OpenMedia welcomed the attention political parties are paying to telecom pricing, calling it a significant barrier to connectivity in today’s digital economy.

“Big telecom has been gouging people in Canada for far too long and change is long overdue,” OpenMedia campaigns director Matthew Carroll said in a statement.

OpenMedia has called on the government to require major service providers to offer wholesale access to MVNOs, which pay fees to piggyback on the infrastructure built by the big telecom players.

Allowing MVNOs access to the country’s wireless sector at fair rates would increase competition, and enable smaller providers to offer more affordable service to Canadians, said Carroll.

The CRTC is reviewing the rules governing Canada’s wireless market to determine whether MVNOs should have greater access to established networks.

Where that has happened in other markets, particularly in Europe and Israel, the result has been less money spent on improving networks, said Ghiz.

“They’ve allowed MVNOs to come in and they have mandated prices around wireless. Quite frankly when that happens there’s less investment,” he said.

“Your download speeds go down, your coverage goes down and the opportunity to invest to ensure more Canadians get connected goes down as well. We don’t want to see that happen.”

Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

federal election 2019

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The bobsled race has traditionally been a staple event at the carnival. File photo
Upcoming Rossland Winter Carnival cancelled due to COVID-19 crisis

This is the first time the carnival won’t be held in decades

Grace and her daughter Helen enjoyed one of the story walks put on by the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy. Photo: Submitted
Castlegar literacy programs going strong

Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy is still offering services throughout the West Kootenay.

A view of proposed seniors housing on Vernon St. Illustration: City of Nelson/ Vendure Retirement Communities
Nelson seniors housing project to start construction in the spring

Private development on Vernon Street will provide assisted living services as well as housing

The fundraiser is anticipated to occur again next year. Photo: Deb Penner
Castlegar Blue Barn Pet staff raise $15,579 for charities

Staff decided to hold fundraiser after they had to cancel their pet festival this fall

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie “The Name of the Rose” at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

Oscar-winner was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Most Read