Tony Clement is a Conservative MP and former minister of industry.
Much will be written in coming months following this week's announcement of the purchase of Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. by BCE Inc., the parent company of Bell. Many Canadian consumers, especially in Manitoba, are left to wonder whether this deal is good for them.
As it stands, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have some of the cheapest cellular plans available in Canada, thanks to an increase in competition in those provinces, with MTS in Manitoba and SaskTel in Saskatchewan competing for customers with the other nationally recognized carriers. This is a case of increased competition bringing down prices for consumers. But does increased competition automatically bring better service, especially in rural areas?
This deal will require approvals from a slate of entities, including the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the Competition Bureau and Industry Canada. In a move to make this deal more palatable to regulators (who may not react kindly to a decrease in competition), it has been reported that BCE will, in a separate deal, sell roughly a third of MTS's postpaid subscriber base and various retail locations to Telus Corp..
With Bell and Telus slicing up MTS between them, it is up to these companies to make the case to consumers and regulators that this deal will benefit Canadians with an increase in service throughout Manitoba and the maintaining of the current pricing level. They will have to make the case that their pricing, infrastructure and service are worthy of the regulators' approval and of the business of consumers.
Canada's previous government, of which I was proud to be a member, was committed to ensuring the timely availability of world-class wireless services at low prices for Canadian families, including those in rural areas. Wireless telecommunications and the radio frequency spectrum that enables it, are fundamental to a world-class digital infrastructure, a key pillar of Canada's digital economy and our economy at large. A world-class digital infrastructure takes world-class investment. It is clear with this deal that MTS did not feel capable of expanding with its current resources.
Our government at the time was guided by three objectives: sustained competition in the wireless telecommunications services, robust investment in the telecommunications sector and the availability of advanced services for all Canadians, including those in rural areas. The last point is important. In order to thrive economically, rural Canada must have the necessary infrastructure to serve its residents and businesses. It is imperative, for Canada's competitiveness globally, that rural areas have access to quality wireless and broadband services.
The Canadian wireless landscape has changed significantly since the 2008 auctioning of advanced wireless services (AWS) spectrum. At that time, our government set aside spectrum for new entrants and implemented other policies to support new competitors. New entrants have since made large investments to launch services and are providing greater choice to Canadian consumers. These new entrants currently serve more than one million Canadians. At the same time, Canadian incumbent wireless providers continued to invest in their networks. This is a win-win for Canadian consumers.
Canadians have benefited from greater competition, lower prices and increased choice in wireless telecommunications services. This has been the result of factors including measures introduced by the previous government in 2008 to support the entry of new competitors. Measures announced in subsequent years built on these actions.
As minister of industry, the concerns of consumers, small businesses and entrepreneurs were paramount to me. When the CRTC rendered a decision allowing usage-based billing for wholesale clients and smaller Internet service providers, I warned that if the CRTC did not revise its decision, our government would do it for them.
I still believe the increase in competition is a plus for Canadian consumers. As stated back in 2011 while at the Industry Ministry, more competition and more choices are beneficial to Canadian wireless consumers. However, we need to make sure that companies serving wireless Canadians have access to the capital they need to expand the services offered to reach all Canadians. Good service throughout Canada and to Canadian consumers should be the litmus test.