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)

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

Just Posted

(Advocate file photo)
Red Deer down to 102 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 332 cases with 26 in hospital and five in ICU

Photo Courtesy of the Town of Sylvan Lake
Multiple edible parks found throughout Sylvan Lake

Apple trees, berry bushes and more have been planted in various parks around town

Curtis Labelle. (Photo Submitted)
More exciting music to come from Sylvan Lake’s Curtis Labelle

Curtis Labelle has been called Canadian Elton John or Billy Joel by fans

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall

114 cases in Red Deer, down one from Saturday

Maskwacis Pride crosswalk (Left to right): Montana First Nation Councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Buffalo, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vern Saddleback.
Pride in Maskwacis

The 4th inaugural Maskwacis Pride crosswalk painting took place on Saturday June 12th, 2021

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers found that 56% of foundations and eye products contain high levels of fluorine

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada, speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul facing no-confidence motion from party brass

move follows months of internal strife and the defection of MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals

Tulips bloom in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Day two of a full week of scheduled hearings will be heard in Federal Court today on a case involving Indigenous children unnecessarily taken into foster care by what all parties call Canada’s “broken child welfare system.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
AFN slams Ottawa for ‘heartless’ legal challenge of First Nations child compensation

2019 decision awarded $40,000 to each Indigenous child removed before 2006

A health-care worker holds up a sign signalling she needs more COVID-19 vaccines at the ‘hockey hub’ mass vaccination facility at the CAA Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brampton, Ont., on Friday, June 4, 2021. This NHL-sized hockey rink is one of CanadaÕs largest vaccination centres. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘Vaxxed to the max’: Feds launch Ask an Expert campaign to encourage COVID shots

Survey shows that confidence in vaccines has risen this spring

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Most Read