NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pledged to make cellphone and internet service more affordable, but didn’t directly address how his party would bring prices down.
Speaking at an outdoor election campaign event in Windsor, Ont., on Wednesday, Mr. Singh said the pandemic has underscored the importance of reliable and affordable cellphone and internet service, as many Canadians worked from home and children attended virtual school.
He said his party would “cap fees” charged by big telecommunications companies, but provided no further detail. He also said his party is committed to using public resources to pay for the cost of building out necessary infrastructure in rural, remote and Indigenous communities, to give people across the country cellphone and internet access. He did not say how much funding would be required.
“The same way we look at building roads and bridges, we need to look at building the infrastructure to connect people with high-speed internet,” he said.
The NDP has released its campaign platform, but the party has said details related to the costs of its promises will be revealed later, once the proposals have been reviewed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Ben Klass, a PhD candidate at Carleton University who studies communications policy, said the main reason telecommunications rates are so high in Canada is there are only a handful of providers, meaning there is little competition on prices. He said the price cap would be a “good start,” but it wouldn’t take care of all the issues.
“The idea that we need to have some sort of control over the price of communication service in the country is definitely on the right track,” he said. But he added that such measures would create problems with figuring out different price caps for different amounts of data. The burden of figuring out the details, he said, could fall on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
The Liberal Party campaigned in 2019 on a pledge to reduce cellphone bills by 25 per cent. The party said this could be accomplished within two years “by using the government’s regulatory powers, saving an average middle-class family of four nearly $1,000 a year.”
The Innovation Canada website says Bell, Telus and Rogers are expected to lower their prices by 25 per cent in the next two years, for cellphone plans that offer between two and six gigabytes of data. The website also says that, compared with a set of benchmark prices gathered in early 2020, prices for “most plans” have already decreased by between 9 per cent and 25 per cent.
But Mr. Klass said that is an oversimplification, and even if advertised rates for new plans are lowered, customers who are locked into old plans won’t necessarily see a difference. (The Innovation Canada numbers include promotional pricing.)
Liberal Party spokesperson Brook Simpson pointed to a summer release from Statistics Canada, which reported consumer prices for cellular services in Canada had decreased by 21.5 per cent between June, 2020, and June, 2021.
“With respect to cellphone bills, our focus is on lower prices, more competition, more innovation, and better connectivity for everyone,” he said in a statement. “We’ve made progress in recent years – and there is more to do. ... The NDP may talk a good game but never has a concrete plan to deliver the change and affordability that Canadians need.”
Just days before the launch of the federal election campaign, the Liberal government announced $1.44-billion in funding for the satellite company Telesat to expand its broadband internet and cellphone service for rural Canadians.
Conservative Party spokesperson Mathew Clancy pointed to a section of his party’s platform that outlines a plan for lowering cellphone and internet bills. The Conservatives say they would promote competition by “allowing foreign telecommunications companies to provide services to Canadian customers,” so long as Canadian companies have reciprocal treatment in the other countries.
The platform also says the Conservatives would build digital infrastructure to connect all of Canada to high-speed internet by 2025.
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