The federal Conservatives have raised their counterattack against the country's three major wireless carriers, launching a partisan website that bluntly asks Canadians "are you with us?" in its public spat with BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp.
Industry Minister James Moore used Twitter to announce the launch of the site – www.consumersfirst.ca, which is the property of the Conservative Party of Canada – to his 15,000-plus followers on Friday, after calling a rival public campaign website launched by the big three, www.Fair4Canada.ca, part of a "dishonest" and "misleading" campaign to skew public debate.
The big carriers have argued that the government's upcoming auction of valuable wireless spectrum is flawed, containing three loopholes that could unfairly advantage potential new entrant Verizon Communications Inc., should it decide to bid. They argue that it is unfair that the U.S. telecom giant can bid for struggling upstarts who entered the wireless market after its last spectrum auction in 2008, while they can't; that Verizon should have to build its own network in Canada if it wants to compete here and not piggyback on theirs; and that Verizon should not be allowed to bid for two out of four prime blocks of spectrum set aside in each market, when they can only bid for the other two and win just one.
"Telus is aligned with what Mr. Moore is calling for – more competition in Canada," said Josh Blair, the company's chief corporate officer. "Our concern is with the 'how.'"
"Gifting Verizon a two-for-one spectrum advantage when we all need 700 MHz spectrum to provide high-quality service to our customers on an ongoing basis, especially rural customers in Telus's case, is just not fair."
The Conservatives returned fire this week on what has been an incendiary war of words between the two sides. The partisan party website sets out a number of "myths" countered by "facts."
"Fact: There is no loophole," the site says. "Our government is supporting increased competition in our wireless sector, which is intended to produce more choice and lower prices." It also notes that the three incumbent carriers have 90 per cent of the market share and 85 per cent of the wireless spectrum in Canada.
But Canaccord Genuity analyst Dvai Ghose noted that in several major markets in the world, the top three wireless carriers have an overwhelming market share. In the United States, AT&T and Verizon "have almost two-thirds market share and significant market power."
"While both sides are taking their arguments to an unprecedented level, ultimately it remains to be seen whether Verizon will come or not," he said.
Meanwhile, a Reuters report, citing unnamed sources, said the big-three carriers plan to launch a new front in their uphill battle for public support: Verizon itself. The report said the proposed media campaign would warn Canadians that Verizon's entry to the market would pose a privacy threat.
The Conservatives' website met with initial hearty support on Twitter. "eat it telus/bell/rogers," one Calgary man tweeted, while a Halifax woman tweeted "SOMEONE MARK THE DATE: Stephen Harper has done something I mostly support."