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Cellphone users cross Bay street in Toronto's financial district.Gloria Nieto/The Globe and Mail

A new survey commissioned by Bell and Telus suggests Canadians don't want Ottawa to give special treatment to foreign competitors.

The Nanos Research telephone survey of 2,000 Canadians found that 81 per cent of Canadians preferred that neither foreign, nor Canadian-owned telecommunications companies are favoured when Ottawa conducts an auction of highly-coveted wireless spectrum in January. The survey results are sure to be used by Canada's major telecommunications companies in their high-profile public relations campaign against Ottawa's plans to reserve half of the auctioned radio waves for foreign competitors.

Federal Industry Minister James Moore has fired back in response to the campaign with a cross-country tour this week defending Ottawa's position as being in the best interests of Canadian consumers. Though the survey was funded by Bell and Telus, not all of the responses fit neatly with their media message.

For instance, while 49.6 per cent of respondents said they either oppose or somewhat oppose "foreign-owned wireless telecommunications companies entering the Canadian market to compete for business," the idea was supported or somewhat supported by 45.9 per cent.

"The main finding is that Canadians are open to competition, whether its from a foreign or Canadian company," pollster Nik Nanos said. "It's just that they're not hot on giving an advantage in the marketplace to a foreign telecommunications company."

The findings show this isn't a "cut-and-dry issue – Canadians would like to see more competition," he said, adding that the price of wireless service is also very important.

"People believe that for a market to function, it should be fairly even," he said.

Critics of the campaign by Canada's telecom firms point out that the Big Three have long benefited from federal restrictions on foreign investment in the sector.

A previous poll by Nanos Research commissioned by the Canadian LabourWatch Association in 2011 is currently being reviewed by Canada's Marketing Research and Intelligence Association following complaints that its findings were presented in a misleading way. The association – which oversees a code of conduct for the industry – has not yet released a decision on the matter.

Mr. Nanos notes that the wording of all questions related to the telecommunications survey are available online and that the questions were asked in a straight-forward way.

When asked to rank a list of five federal priorities, the poll's respondents placed lowering gas prices in first place, followed by lowering college and university tuition and lowering bank charges. Lowering wireless phone service prices was fourth, followed by lowering airline ticket surcharges.

The survey found 66.9 per cent of Canadians were either satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the "overall value" they receive from their wireless service. The percentage who said they were either dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied was 24.7 per cent.

The telephone survey was conducted between Aug. 12 and Aug. 19. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.