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Will Harper and James Moore keep their promise to lower cell phone prices?
By Steve Anderson, Executive Director of OpenMedia.ca
It’s no wonder that so many Canadians are speaking out about the state of our broken wireless market. We pay some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for often terrible cell phone service.
Thankfully it looks like decision-makers are finally starting to take notice. Stephen Harper highlighted the issue when setting out his government’s agenda last October and he promised Canadians lower prices and improved choice outside the Big Three providers (Bell, Rogers, and Telus) at a Conservative convention.
Industry Minister James Moore has personally committed to improving choice and affordability. But earlier this week his government’s plans were dealt a massive blow as the last remaining national independent cell phone provider, Wind Mobile, pulled out of a crucial auction for wireless assets only a day before it was set to begin. This could spell the end for national, independent cell phone service in Canada unless the government takes action.
Up for auction are important blocks of wireless spectrum, a scarce and vital public resource that mobile devices use to communicate with each other. The Big Three already control over 85% of this important resource, much of it handed to them virtually for free. Having so few players control the infrastructure required to deliver service makes it extremely difficult for independent providers and innovators to reach Canadians - and leaves cell phone users with few options other than the Big Three’s blatant price-gouging and poor customer service.
Canadians wanting an affordable alternative to the expensive plans offered by the Big Three were hoping that independent providers could get access to this crucial resource - particularly as the type of wireless assets up for auction are especially prized as they allow for improved cell phone service in basements, elevators, and office buildings. For Canadians in rural areas, this also means greater potential for high-speed networks in otherwise poorly serviced areas.
This week’s developments show that the government just hasn’t gone far enough to stop the Big Three from blocking our access to independent providers. While Minister Moore has taken positive steps in support of Canadian cell phone users, it will take more significant measures to fix our broken cell phone market.
The government should act immediately to stop the Big Three from using their telecom infrastructure to block independent providers. Tens of thousands of Canadians have requested this action and it’s time for the government to listen to its citizens and adopt this common-sense policy. At the same time it’s essential that the government doesn’t give in to those (including the Big Three) who are asking for the rules to be changed to enable huge foreign investment in the Big Three providers. This could obviously cement our lack of choice and high prices into place, and potentially make matters worse.
As of now the positive steps Minister Moore has announced are too little too late. The Big Three will continue to control over 90% of the cell phone market if further steps are not taken to ensure all of us enjoy access to independent Canadian providers. There are several Canadian providers waiting to serve us if the government moves forward.
Canadians had hoped that this auction would finally result in lower prices and improved choice, and here at OpenMedia.ca we’ve been inundated by Canadians calling for Minister Moore to rein in Big Telecom once and for all. At present our old-fashioned system allows the Big Three to block Canadians from accessing more affordable alternatives - and we’re leading a sustained, 70,000-strong national campaign calling for this blockade to be lifted.
It’s past time and common sense that we split the wireless networks off from the Big Telecom providers so that all Canadians can have unencumbered access to quality telecom services at an affordable price.
With the future of independent, affordable cell phone service on the line, it’s more important than ever that we keep up the pressure on decision-makers. We know from experience that when Canadians speak up en masse it really does make a difference. By taking a stand we can force decision-makers to listen.
It’s crunch time - we’ve put up with the Big Three’s sky-high prices and terrible service for long enough. Let’s each take a moment to speak out together at https://OpenMedia.ca/gatekeepers so we can create a momentum the government will find impossible to ignore.
Steve Anderson is Executive Director of OpenMedia.ca, an award-winning network of people and organizations working to safeguard the possibilities of the open Internet.