Skip to main content

Report on Business Liberals will promise to cut wireless bills in election campaign: sources

The Liberals will promise to help cut cellphone and internet bills in an upcoming election campaign amid widespread complaints about the cost of wireless communications, party sources said.

One option being studied is a cap on bills, the sources said, while another is to oblige major providers to offer wholesale access to Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), which are smaller outfits without their own infrastructure.

The Liberals, tied in the polls with the official opposition Conservatives ahead of the Oct. 21 vote, want to tackle bills they say are much higher than in other industrialized nations.

Story continues below advertisement

Liberal officials knocking on doors as election preparations heat up say the cost of phone bills and internet is one of the most frequent complaints they hear.

“Canadians shouldn’t be paying more for their already very expensive internet and communications services and that is something we will take into account,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Monday.

The three main wireless providers – BCE Inc’s Bell unit, Rogers Communications Inc and Telus Corp – account for around 90 per cent of the market.

Consumer advocates have long complained this leads to gouging that particularly hits the poor.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) – which regulates the industry – said wireless costs account for almost 9 per cent of the household income of the bottom 20 per cent of Canadians.

VAST COUNTRY

In December, Canada’s innovation ministry released an independent report that showed while prices were gradually falling, Canadian monthly plans with two gigabytes of data still cost $75.44.

The equivalent price in the United States was $61.26 while in Rome it was just $21.11. In Australia, like Canada a vast underpopulated country, the figure was $24.70.

Story continues below advertisement

The major telecommunications providers disagree with the study and say costs are roughly comparable with those elsewhere. The Liberals though are determined to act.

“There are two choices: legislate or push through measures to boost competition,” said one of the sources, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

Bell and Rogers referred queries to the industry group Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA). Telus did not respond to requests for comment.

In February, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains ordered the CRTC to focus more on affordability and lower prices.

The CRTC said earlier this year it was looking into whether it should order the major players to offer more access to the MNVOs, which complain they are effectively being shut out.

The major firms say they are investing billions in infrastructure to ensure coverage for just 36 million people scattered across the world’s second largest country. Overregulation will cause speed and quality to slip, they add.

Story continues below advertisement

“When you get into an election campaign you get into emotion sometimes,” said CWTA President and chief executive Robert Ghiz.

“It’s extremely important that any political party make sure they don’t put too much short-term thinking into something that is going to drive our economy,” he said in an interview.

The CRTC this month ordered a cut in the rates that third-party internet resellers pay the major firms for access.

Bell said the move would cost it $100 million and cut plans to extend internet broadband to smaller towns by 20 per cent, which angered Bains.

The left-leaning opposition New Democrats, which could well end up keeping a minority Liberal government in power, are also promising a crackdown. The Conservatives – seen as being more friendly toward big business – are looking at tax rebate to help cut bills, said a well-placed source.

Marie Aspiazu of Open Media, a non-governmental organization pushing for cheap widespread internet access, conceded prices were falling slightly.

Story continues below advertisement

“Is it better than nothing? Yes. But are we doing great? No, I think we can do a lot more,” she said by phone.

Report an error
Tickers mentioned in this story
Unchecking box will stop auto data updates
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter