Telecoms push back against govt. plan to cut wireless bills

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Politicians may rail against Canada’s major telecom companies and vow to bring down their usurious rates, but telecom companies are preparing to defend their bottom line. And that line of defence begins with intense lobbying against the new minority Liberal government as it moves to fulfill election pledges to cut cellphone costs by 25 per cent with some executives warning government action could hamper expensive network rollouts.

Canada’s three telecommunications providers, BCE Inc’s Bell unit, Rogers Communications Inc and Telus Corp., control around 90 per cent of the market and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during the campaign he could force providers to act.

The industry is particularly unhappy about the Liberals’ pledge to allow more access for Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) ― which lease wireless capacity at wholesale prices and resell it at reduced retail prices ― saying they do not help build the expensive infrastructure needed to ensure service.

“We’re fighting a five-front battle here and we will use whatever tools are at our disposal to convince the powers that be … that this is wrong-headed,” an executive at one of the major firms, said, adding the prospect of MVNOs was a greater existential threat than price cuts.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which regulates the industry, is probing whether it should order the major players to offer more access to MNVOs, which complain they are effectively being shut out.

Last Wednesday, Bell asked the government to overturn an August CRTC order to cut the rates that third-party internet resellers pay the major firms for access.

The Liberals said they will initially work with the firms to ensure they offered plans comparable with global prices.

While Canadian monthly plans have been gradually falling, they still cost more than in the United States or Australia, which like Canada is a vast underpopulated country.

Industry players complain the Liberals are using old data and note the CRTC says between 2016 and 2018 prices fell by as much as 35 per cent. Major firms this year introduced new unlimited monthly plans that sell for between $50 and $70. -CINEWS

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