By Lindsey Pinto
Special to The Post
In recent months, decision-makers have started to listen to Canadians and have begun a desperately needed overhaul of our broken cell phone market.
In June alone, Canadians saw the release of a broadly positive CRTC Code of Conduct for cell phone companies, Industry Canada’s subsequent denial of telecom giant Telus’ attempt to take over an independent provider’s spectrum (a crucial resource that had been set aside to enable choice in the cell phone market), and a new framework for the transfer of spectrum.
These decisions, however, followed years of cell phone policy neglect.
The shift towards public interest decision-making took place only after half-a-million Canadians joined together to form the pro-Internet community, and made it clear that citizens’ interests need to come first.
Prior to that, Big Telecom’s dominance was left largely unchecked, which allowed three large conglomerates—Bell, Rogers, and Telus—to impose their own kind of regulation on cell phone service. As was revealed by OpenMedia.ca’s study on cell phone users’ lived realities, this lack of public interest-oriented policy-making led to Canadians being systematically mistreated by Big Telecom for a very long time.
It was only two years ago that then-Industry Minister Christian Paradis failed to take the step of setting aside spectrum for small carriers and new market entrants – a strategy that was proven to successfully stimulate affordability and choice in the cell phone market when it was used in 2008.
Things have changed however.
A few months after the CRTC’s wireless Code of Conduct release, Canadians have welcomed the appointment of a new Industry Minister, James Moore, widely seen as a heavyweight within Cabinet and the Conservative Party.
I believe it’s a positive sign for Canada’s digital future that the Prime Minister has named him as our Industry Minister. His appointment will raise expectations that the government will finally take the bold action required to open our communications networks to new more affordable services for Canadians.
Moore has already set a positive tone for telecom policy in Canada. When the Big Three launched a misleading advertising campaign to convince Canadians that fixes to our dysfunctional cell phone market are somehow unfair to them, Moore quickly took a stand in defence of the push for choice.
“... I do not believe the public is misinformed. I think Canadians know very well what is at stake and they know dishonest attempts to skew debates via misleading campaigns when they see them. Equally, Canadian consumers know instinctively that more competition will serve their families well through better service and lower prices.”
The government has shown that they are finally starting to listen to Canadians, and are now interested in moving the cell phone market in the right direction. But to really show they’re serious about our digital future, there’s much more they need to do.
As OpenMedia.ca’s own David Christopher writes:
“The best long-term solution for choice and lower prices is for Minister Moore to open Canada’s locked-down wireless networks to independent new service providers. This would mean innovative providers such as Toronto-based Ting.com could offer affordable services to Canadians without needing to build an entire nationwide network of their own.”
Open networks are the best way to ensure choice and affordability – as the experience of the UK, Australia, and New Zealand has proven.
The fact remains that Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for cell phone service, and face systematic mistreatment from the Big Three. This is because only three giant conglomerates control over 93% of our wireless market.
Tens of thousands of Canadians have been speaking out to demand greater choice – let’s continue to speak out and pressure decision-makers until we get the vibrant cell phone market we deserve.
For more information go to OpenMedia.ca - a network of people and organizations working to safeguard the open Internet. Their campaigns are citizen-driven, and rely on grassroots donations. Support at www.openmedia.ca/donate