Imagine if Chrysler was given nearly free rein to control access to highways in Canada. Then imagine they force all Ford customers to pay a toll and use a slow lane that is full of potholes. If your car is provided by an independent car salesman, Chrysler could even block you from highways altogether. This is how cell phone infrastructure is governed at the moment – does it sound fair to you?
The Big Three cell phone providers currently control over 85% of vital wireless spectrum — the digital highway required to service cell phone customers. Much of this public asset was essentially handed to the Big Three (Rogers, Bell and Telus) for free and they are still permitted to charge competitors for access.
While the Big Three are not supposed to block other providers from using this essential infrastructure, the current rules are vague enough that they can easily act as gatekeepers to the market by relegating startup providers to the digital version of a pothole-laden slow lane (think dropped calls). As a result, telecom startups have struggled or not come to market at all and Canadians are literally paying the price.
After years of speaking out, Canadians recently finally won a new set of customer protection rules from the CRTC and convinced the Industry Minister to begin to pull away the regulatory protections the Big Three have enjoyed for years.
Rather than listen to the will of Canadians, the Big Three cell phone conglomerates have been spending a fortune on a highly misleading PR and lobbying campaign. They’ve been trying to convince us that we don’t need more affordable choices for cell phone service, and that our sky-high bills are perfectly reasonable.
The Big Three are trying to wrap themselves in the Canadian flag, supposedly protecting us against investment in telecom startup services from Verizon and other telecom companies based outside of Canada. This is misleading to the core — their PR campaign is really an attempt to stop Canadians from reining in the Big Three cell phone giants’ price-gouging and market domination.
Not surprisingly, this campaign has backfired spectacularly as Canadians took to the Internet to ridicule and debunk the Big Three’s claims in a wide variety of ways – speaking out on reddit and on Facebook, and even creating parody websites, parody videos on YouTube and parody accounts on Twitter. We’ve also seen citizen-produced op-eds appear in newspapers across the country, taking the Big Three to task for their years of terrible customer service.
Even the Prime Minister weighed in, telling the Big Three that his government would not shift its policy of encouraging new wireless entrants, while his Industry Minister James Moore described the ad campaign as “misleading” and “dishonest”.
Canada is packed with creative-minded innovators with forward-looking ideas for how cell phone service should be delivered in the 21st century. A great example is Toronto-based Tucows, which offers an affordable cell phone service called Ting. The catch? Ting is only available in the U.S., despite being Canadian-based. Why? Tucows say they’re prevented from offering their service in Canada because the Big Three will not provide access to Canada’s wireless infrastructure. Verizon is only showing interest because regulatory protections enabled the Big Three to suppress Canadian startup providers like Tucows.
That’s why so many Canadians are now looking to open networks as the next step the government should take to fix our broken cell phone market. That means splitting apart our wireless infrastructure from the Big Three telecom giants – enabling all providers, large and small, to operate on a level playing field. This idea has worked successfully in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, resulting in their residents paying far less for cell phone service than Canadians.
Supporting the growth of innovative Canadian providers by opening our networks would encourage job creation here in Canada – while also tackling high cell phone prices which are acting as a dead weight on job creation and economic opportunity across the country.
It’s not surprising that the Big Three want to maintain their one-sided control – but the fact that they would use money they price-gouged out of cellphone users to mislead Canadians on a national scale is outrageous. Clearly the government needs to move beyond incremental steps and take reasonable action to rein in the Big Three’s out of control sense of entitlement.
The government has the clear backing of Canadians to open our wireless networks to new Canadian-grown providers. Over 60,000 Canadians have signed a petition at DemandChoice.ca, with many thousands more sending a full set of policy recommendations to their MPs.
It’s time to open wireless networks to enable affordable Canadian-grown providers to thrive, create jobs, and finally offer the choice and lower prices Canadians deserve. Let’s keep moving forward.