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Pierre Dion, president and chief executive officer of Quebecor Inc. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)
Pierre Dion, president and chief executive officer of Quebecor Inc. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)

Quebecor CEO: The case for high-quality, low-cost wireless in Canada Add to ...

Vidéotron Mobile is a wholly owned subsidiary of Quebecor Media Inc. Pierre Dion is president and CEO of Quebecor Inc. and Quebecor Media Inc.

The current state of wireless in Canada does not favour consumers. It does not favour our economy. It does not favour new innovation and growth.

To put this in perspective, low-end wireless plans here can cost consumers up to 50 per cent more than their equivalents in the U.K., France and Australia. High-end plans are even worse, costing Canadians 45 to 80 per cent more. It’s a hidden tax that we pay for an unfair and uncompetitive wireless system.

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The incumbent Big Three wireless companies defend these high rates by comparing Canadian prices to U.S. prices, but this is an exercise in comparing oneself to the worst prices in the developed world. Surely we as a country can do better.

It’s time we did something about it. It’s time for real competition, and a real choice. Considering the importance of wireless in the future growth of our country, it’s time we moved expeditiously to address the problem.

On Wednesday at the annual Canadian Telecom Summit, we unveiled a new vision to provide Canadians with a new high-quality, low-cost wireless choice and real wireless competition.

Put simply, under the right conditions, we are ready, willing and able to become Canada’s “fourth wireless competitor.”

Our vision is based on expanding Vidéotron Mobile’s half a million wireless subscribers in Quebec to a new service offering for Canadians, providing Canadians with the country’s first low-cost, all-inclusive subscriber plans.

The plan is based upon achieving meaningful market penetration through offering Canadians outside Quebec the country’s best low-cost subscriber plans.

The plan would include major investments in spectrum, an expanded network and consolidation with willing partners.

To date, Vidéotron has invested more than $1.6-billion in wireless spectrum and networks and we hope to invest more.

Critical to the vision is an urgent need for a fair and competitive federally regulated roaming policy, or the policy that sets the price Canadians pay when they roam on the networks of bigger carriers within Canada. The current regulatory landscape is simply unfair and uncompetitive. It hurts consumers and hinders new competition.

The Competition Bureau of Canada pulled no punches when it stated that the incumbent players have used the roaming policy as a “strategic tool to eliminate or reduce the competitive pressure … in Canadian mobile wireless markets.”

Federal Industry Minister James Moore was equally emphatic when he said: “The roaming rates that Canada’s largest wireless companies are charging other domestic providers can be more than 10 times what they charge their own customers. For too long, Canadian consumers in the wireless sector have been the victims of these high roaming costs.”

There is no question the country needs a new fair and competitive environment. It’s in the best interests of consumers.

The incumbent carriers characterize any policy steps taken to further wireless competition as “concessions” or “giveaways” to new entrants.

We don’t want giveaways, we don’t want concessions, all we would like to see is the chance to compete fairly and competitively.

That said, it’s important to note that for years the incumbents did not have to pay up front to acquire wireless spectrum. They paid a much smaller annual license fee that was absorbed by their customers.

We estimate that the value of free spectrum provided to the Big Three over the years – instead of being required to purchase their spectrum up front as we do today – is a taxpayer concession worth $5.1-billion to them at today’s rates.

That number does not even attempt to estimate the benefits that they also secured from being sheltered from well-financed foreign competition.

Going forward, the correct policy solution is a competitive and level playing field, one that does not penalize consumers with unjust charges.

With a fair, competitive and level playing field on roaming, the stage will be set for a new era of consumer choice in Canada. It will benefit consumers, small businesses and the economy at large. It will be the dawn of a new sustainable and viable low cost wireless service.

Time is of the essence. Let’s make wireless work for Canadian consumers.

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