Canada Wireless Industry: Liberals Come Out In Favour Of Greater Competition

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The Liberal Party's industry critic has thrown his weight behind a new campaign to force open the doors of Canada’s cellphone industry to greater competition.

Geoff Regan has released an open letter urging the government to allow “any small or new entrants” to bid for a new block of wireless spectrum going to auction as early as this year.

In Canada the cost of wireless plans continues to remain significantly higher than in many other developed countries,” Regan stated in the letter. “Canada also lags many of those countries in terms of wireless penetration. Both of these facts suggest that our wireless marketplace still requires more companies providing more competition.”

That represents at least a partial departure from current policy, including the policy of previous Liberal governments, which had maintained restrictions on foreign ownership of telecom infrastructure.

Potential entrants to Canada’s wireless market are limited by ownership regulations that prevent cellphone network operators from being majority foreign-owned. Several years ago the Conservative government set those rules aside to allow Wind Mobile to operate inside Canada, despite being majority funded by an Egyptian company.

Regan’s letter comes after a grassroots group launched an online petition urging Canadians to speak out against domination of the cell phone market by the country's big three wireless companies – Rogers Communications Inc., BCE Inc. and Telus Corp.

More than 30,000 people have signed the Stop the Cellphone Squeeze petition since it was launched last week.

"We're calling for a level playing field," Steve Anderson, executive director of OpenMedia.ca told CBC News in a phone interview.

"Canadians don't want the big three to knock out the independents and have a stranglehold over the future of our communication. They want choice and affordability."

OpenMedia.ca wants federal government set aside a certain percentage of that spectrum specifically for new entrants, in the hopes of spurring competition.

Big Telecom already controls 94 per cent of the wireless market in Canada and is seeking to gobble up the rest in order to shut out small startups and independent operators such as Wind Mobile, said Anderson.

Domination of the cellphone marketplace by a few providers means higher prices and longer, locked-in contracts, as well as poor customer service, he added.

A 2009 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report found that Canadians pay among the highest cellphone rates in the world, including the highest roaming fees. If Big Telecom succeeds in blocking the independents' access to the spectrum, prices will go even higher, contracts will get tighter and customer complaints will increase, said Anderson.

With files from CBC

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article identified Geoff Regan as a "shadow minister," a term reserved for members of the official opposition. The Huffington Post regrets the error.

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