Cheaper telecom a major election issue

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A rare consensus is building up among major political parties ahead of the federal election that Canadians need protecting from gouging by the country’s big telecom companies.

It’s being called phone-bill populism, and it could be a make-or-break issue for the parties as they head toward the Oct. 21 vote.

Seniors in particular are peeved with the rising cost of telecom rates given their steady pension. Political candidates canvassing their votes are scrambling to ensure they can get their respective parties to issue promises to get those prices under control.

The New Democrats under Jagmeet Singh laid out their plan for reducing wireless and internet-service rates, announcing in June they would impose a “price cap” on monthly bills that they estimated will save households about $10 a month for each service.

The NDP plan would see rates matched to an average across the 36 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the party said.

Meanwhile the Trudeau Liberals are preparing a campaign pledge to reduce cellphone and internet costs either through a cap on monthly bills or by requiring major service providers to offer mobile virtual-network operators (MVNOs) wholesale access to their infrastructure. Those are smaller companies that don’t own wireless networks but pay bigger companies for the right to use theirs, re-selling that access under their own brands.

Trudeau himself has acknowledged telecom services in Canada are costly and has vowed to do something about it.

“We recognize that Canadians shouldn’t be paying more for their already very expensive internet and communication services and that’s something that we will take into account as we move forward to ensure that the system is fair for everyone,” Trudeau said last Monday at the close of the G7 summit in France, when asked about the possibility of taxing digital services.

Not to be left behind or outdone, the Conservatives have deflected and accused the Liberals of being ineffective on the issue of reducing the end user rates since coming to power in 2015. Details of their plan is in the works.

Meanwhile the Green party has also pledged to “mandate affordable cellphone plans,” without providing specifics.

Industry players warn that attempts at rate-fixing could result in reduced investment in critical infrastructure, particularly as Canada heads toward development of 5G networks across the country.

Alarmed by this populist talk, Canada’s telecom industry group, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), argues that the high costs Canadians pay for services have been necessary to help build one of the fastest, most reliable cellphone and internet infrastructures in the world.

Consumer watchdog organization OpenMedia welcomed the attention political parties are paying to telecom pricing, calling it a significant barrier to connectivity in today’s digital economy.

OpenMedia has called on the government to require major service providers to offer wholesale access to MVNOs, which pay fees to piggyback on the infrastructure built by the big telecom players.

But regardless what is driving these high prices, it is clear that Canadians pay among the highest amounts for internet access compared to many other countries around the world. -CINEWS

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