While Canada's three telecom titans lob advertisements onto newspapers and screens criticizing the Harper government's rules on foreign companies entering the communications sector, two of the country's largest unions are planning to take the summer's spectrum skirmish to the streets.
On Friday, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) union and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) will march in downtown Toronto against Ottawa's wireless incentives to attract new entrants — which increasingly seems to mean U.S. giant Verizon — to Canada's telecommunications market.
The government relaxed foreign ownership regulations in 2012, allowing non-Canadian firms to purchase Canadian companies with a market share of 10 per cent or less. It also limited the spectrum that Rogers, Bell and Telus could purchase. While the rules were originally intended to give a leg up to small new wireless companies, it appears Verizon could be the main beneficiary.
CEP President Dave Coles told the Huffington Post he doesn't see the rally as a defence of the Big Three, but as standing up for national jobs and security.
"We're offside with [Bell, Rogers and Telus] on all kinds of issues. We've had big strikes. This isn't an industrial relations issue, this is a nation-building issue. You can be on the same side yet disagree on all number of things, that's what a democracy is about," Coles said.
"They're quite unhappy with us when we talk about regulating or creating a crown corporation or being forced to invest in rural communities. We're not on the same page at all."
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<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/21/rick-mercer-telus-stupidest-thing-ever-said_n_2734060.html" target="_blank">"I think a lot of customers don’t want a cap on their monthly cellphone bill."</a> -David Fuller, chief marketing officer for Telus
<a href="http://business.financialpost.com/2013/07/18/telus-darren-entwistle-wireless-spectrum-verizon/?__lsa=0b39-2f11" target="_blank">“There’s going to be a bloodbath, because people are not going to give up on getting that block."</a> -Darren Entwistle, Telus CEO, on what would happen if the government's rules for foreign companies who want to buy Canadian spectrum don't change.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/20/james-moore-wireless-verizon_n_3784535.html" target="_blank">“It was foolish, stupid, arrogant."</a> -McGill University political scientist Richard Schultz, on a letter from Anthony Fell, Bell Canada’s BCE director, to Stephen Harper.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/28/kevin-crull-bell-wireless-debate_n_3830589.html" target="_blank">“Kevin Crull our President wants us to give this report some coverage. It’s a report on phone charges in Canada." </a> -Excerpt from one of the alleged emails sent from senior Bell Media employees obtained by Carleton prof Dwayne Winseck. Winseck says Bell Media's president, Kevin Crull, pressured news directors from other outlets to provide favourable coverage of the CRTC's Wall report.
<a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/08/21/full-pundit-call-a-wambulance-for-canadas-wireless-giants/" target="_blank">“Bell, Rogers and Telus … are accountable to Canadians for the airwaves we entrust to them in ways a foreign firm with 100 million customers back home could never be.” </a> -Toronto Star Publisher John Cruickshank on the consequences of Verizon's entry into Canada
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/07/verizon-canada-wireless-rules_n_3720880.html" target="_blank">“You suggest that ‘U.S. giants don’t need special help from the Canadian government,’ but that’s exactly how Bell got to where it is today."</a> -Blogger Ben Klass on Bell
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/09/stephen-harper-wireless-rules_n_3733569.html" target="_blank">"Given we've invested $100 billion in Canada since 2000, we've earned the equal right to bid on spectrum against a company with the deep pockets of Verizon."</a> - Josh Blair, chief corporate officer of Telus
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/22/ralph-nader-verizon-canada_n_3794205.html" target="_blank">"I don't think they have a commitment to rural Canada."</a> -Darren Entwistle, Telus CEO, on Verizon
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/20/james-moore-wireless-verizon_n_3784535.html" target="_blank">“Nobody believes that the incumbents want robust aggressive competition."</a> -Industry Minister James Moore on Rogers, Bell and Telus
<a href="http://windmobileblog.com/2013/08/time-to-separate-myth-and-reality/" target="_blank">"Over the past several weeks Canadians from coast to coast have been treated to a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of misinformation on the state of the wireless industry."</a> - Anthony Lacavera, CEO of Wind Mobile on the Big Three's campaign
Canadians' Favourite And Least Favourite Cellphone Companies
The Top 5- Canada's Favourite Cellphone Companies
4. Public Mobile
3. WIND Mobile
Pictured: Wind Mobile CEO Anthony Lacavera
2. Virgin Mobile
1. Koodo Mobile
The Bottom 5- Canada's Least Favourite Cellphone Companies
What You Need To Know About Wireless Code of Conduct
How much of the code is new?
<em>Answer from Marc Choma of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, the industry lobby group representing incumbent players:</em> A lot of these things are already common practice from carriers, but I think it’s good that consumers, on a national basis, know this and it applies to everybody. It’s going to supercede any provincial legislation and that was our main goal going into this because we were seeing a patchwork of regulations across provinces and it was costing the industry a lot of money to adapt their systems potentially 13 different ways.
Are there any restrictions in the code that will prevent the cost of two-year contracts going up as a result of the new rules?
<em>Answer from the CRTC:</em> The CRTC wireless code proceeding did not address pricing, as the Commission had previously determined that there is sufficient competition to protect consumer interests with respect to rates. Service providers are free to determine their rates for service and how much will be charged for phones up front. At the same time, improving consumers’ abilities to switch providers should push service providers to compete on price.
How will the shorter contract length affect handset costs?
<em>Answer from Steve Anderson, executive director of OpenMedia.ca, a wireless consumer advocacy group:</em> It’s unclear. There’s no market reason while the cell phone companies would suddenly raise the cost of cellphone service because people are on shorter contracts. So if they do that it’s really just price gouging. They could try and raise upfront handset costs, but the Canadian companies have higher revenue per user than any other telecom companies in the world and other places where we have two-year contracts, the device cost is not higher than it is in Canada, a great example is the U.S. (Pictured: Steve Anderson of OpenMedia)
<em>Answer from Lawford:</em> It’s call your bluff time. The CRTC is saying “let’s see if it’s true that really your costs are so high and that really you're subsidizing these devices so much, or is it that you’re locking people in so the contract is longer than the usable life of the device?” If we send people back in the market every two years is that going to make competition pick up the slack. If they all go up in lockstep, [then] the Competition Bureau should be looking into what’s going on. Pictured: John Lawford of PIAC
<em>Answer from Choma of CWTA:</em> Changing the length of the subsidy from three years to two years can actually raise the price of the upfront cost for your device. So before you had the option of putting it over three years and you could get a much lower rate for your phone, but now you’ve only got 24 months to earn that subsidy back. Obviously, carriers are going to have to adapt their business models to comply with that. But we’ll have to wait and see how carriers respond.
The new rules allow a fully purchased handset to be unlocked immediately or a subsidized handset to be unlocked in 90 days. What effect will this have?
<em>Answer from Anderson of OpenMedia.ca:</em> Unlocking the phone means it’s easier to switch carriers, easier to go international and use different services that aren’t Canadian, so it makes it more affordable. But I also think that area could have been better, for example they didn’t talk about what the cost of unlocking would be. And even the 90-day part could have been stronger. If I get a contract for a phone I should be able to do what I want with it. <em>Answer from Choma of CWTA:</em> Most carriers already do that now and some of them actually do it before 90 days now.
Are providers allowed to charge a fee to unlock a phone?
<em>Answer from CRTC:</em> Yes. Since the CRTC did not examine rates or prices, it is up to the provider to decide on their unlocking fee. However, as of December 2, that rate must be clearly identified in your contract and your critical information summary. <em>Answer from Shawn Hall, Telus spokesman:</em> We already do that – we charge $35 and allow unlocking after 90 days. That covers our costs of providing the service.
What are the effects of the new rules on people who are not on a contract or already have their phones unlocked?
<em>Answer from the CRTC:</em> People not currently on a contract will be covered if they sign a contract after December 2. If they are currently on an indeterminate or month-to-month contract, they will be covered as of December 2. <em>Answer from Marc Choma of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association:</em> Most of the elements of the Code deal with contract services, so the impact on no-contract customers that already own their unlocked phone would be minimal.
Do the caps mean the carriers will cut off your data or roaming after a certain point?
<em>Answer from Anderson of OpenMedia.ca:</em> What’s expected is once you hit your limit in data roaming charges, you’ll receive a text message notification asking if you’re okay with that and do you want to continue. <em>Answer from Choma of CWTA:</em> Most carriers already provide notifications when you are approaching your data limit, or provide you with notification that you are roaming and how to purchase roaming packages. With the new code, a customer's data services will be automatically suspended once the customer has reached $50 of usage, unless the customer expressly consents to override the $50 default limit. In the case of international roaming, a customer's service would be suspended after the customer has reached $100 of usage, again, unless the customer expressly consents to override the $100 default limit. <em>Answer from Telus:</em> Currently, Telus caps international data roaming at $200. We send customers a free text message when they hit that point letting them know (after a series of usage notifications starting at 2 MBs), and will only reactivate roaming if they ask us to. <em>Answer from the CRTC:</em> The code doesn’t prescribe how carriers should do it. The way the code is set, there is a maximum amount carriers can charge unless they make specific arrangements with the consumer or the cell user gives consent to continue after a notification is delivered.
Why did the CRTC decide on two-year contracts, rather than one year, the direction the rest of the world is taking?
<em>Answer from the CRTC:</em> The Commission looked at what would be best for Canadians. Many jurisdictions feature two-year contracts – we also heard evidence during the hearing that multi-year contracts with subsidized devices allow Canadians to get new, sophisticated devices at a lower upfront cost. <em>Answer from Lawford of PIAC:</em> We’re in Canada, so we’re always behind. They could have done that too, but then they would have almost certainly raised everybody’s rates, at least the cost of a handset quite a bit. I hope that as the two-year contract becomes standard the one-year will become a competitive offering.
Are the new rules on three-year contracts retroactive? Can I get out of a three-year contract today?
<em>Answer from CRTC:</em> The rules apply, as of December 2, to all new contracts. In addition, on June 3, 2015, all wireless customers are covered, regardless of when their contract was signed. In practice, that means that if someone signed a contract in May 2013, then on June 3rd 2015, they can cancel without penalty. <em>Answer from Choma of CWTA:</em> With most carriers right now, there isn’t a cancellation fee. If you want to cancel, you just cancel and pay off your device subsidy.
Can a consumer use the new rules as an argument to fight an "outrageous roaming bill" they receive before they are technically protected?
<em>Answer from CRTC:</em> Consumers are always free to contact their service provider to contest a bill. The service provider is not obligated to lower the bill simply because new rules are on the horizon. <em>Answer from Choma of CWTA:</em> Yes they could. However, the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) is already available for consumers that have billing issues. The CCTS will also be the body responsible for enforcing the new Code. <em>Answer from Lawford of PIAC:</em> No. In the meantime you can go to the CCTS and say the rate being billed wasn’t made clear. The CCTS has a history of knocking those down unless the company can show the customer was made very aware of what was going on.
If you decide to get out of a three-year contract after 2 years, do you still have to pay fees like the cost of the handset?
<em>Answer from the CRTC:</em> If you currently have a contract and you want to exit, you will likely be charged a cancellation fee, which is determined by your service provider. Some provinces have rules setting out how these fees must be calculated. Once the code is in force, you will be able to exit after two years without any penalty or fee.
Sky high billing is the biggest concern in Canada. Why weren't rates per second and per megabyte addressed?
<em>Answer from CRTC:</em> The CRTC’s wireless code proceeding did not address pricing, as the Commission had previously determined that there is sufficient competition to protect consumer interests with respect to rates. The new rules will enable consumers to make informed decisions and shop around for the best deal that meets their needs. In addition, the rules around bill shock, including caps on data and roaming, will reduce the high bills that some consumers see. <em>Answer from Lawford of PIAC:</em> The code wasn’t intended to reduce rates or touch rates at all. The whole premise behind us even getting any rules was we’re not talking about rates because the CRTC says, "We’re not rate regulating, all we’re doing is putting in standards so everyone is treated relatively fairly." The Commission could regulate rates, but they don’t. But addressing high rates is the next step, so that [question is] onto something.
Will providers have to show separately the handset cost consumers pay each month?
Coles wrote a column in 2012 blasting Rogers' expenses on the Rogers Cup while technicians working for the company demanded better wages.
“Despite making more than $10 billion in profit over the past five years, Rogers has contracted out thousands of jobs in a bid to drive down wages and conditions," he wrote.
The CEP, which represents 110,000 members, also vehemently opposed the Bell-Astral deal, with its vice-president of media, Peter Murdoch, saying at a CRTC hearing that concentrated media ownership is responsible for "chilling diversity and neutering competition."
But Coles, whose union represents employees working for Bell and Rogers, disagrees with the idea of competition yielding lower prices, and believes there is enough competition in Canada as it is.
"If it was two carriers instead of the five or six I think it would be a problem," he said, acknowledging the fact that the Big Three own the lion's share of Canada's wireless revenue.
"I don't think that there is a lack of competition right now. They compete very hard against each other, and it isn't just three."
Still, if Verizon doesn't come to Canada, Coles said his union will continue to pressure the Big Three and demand conditions if they are allowed to purchase additional spectrum blocks.
"I don't think they should get a free ride," he said of the Big Three. "You and I own [Canada's wireless spectrum], it's not much different than anything that's in the ground, it belongs to the Canadian people," he said.
Friday's march at Yonge and Richmond streets in Toronto — which Coles forecasts will see 2,000 to 3,000 people in attendance "at least" — will take aim at the government's policy and its "spin" on foreign ownership rules, as well as its message of competition leading to lower rates for consumers.
"It is to bring attention to the total failure of the Harper Conservatives' Canadian telecommunications strategy," Coles said.
"There's nothing factual that is coming out of the Conservatives, particularly the prime minister's office, that has anything related to reality."
But on the other side of the spectrum (pun intended), Industry Minister James Moore and most recently Wind Mobile CEO Anthony Lacavera are saying the same about the Big Three's rhetoric.
Moore called the "Fair for Canada" campaign, aimed at stopping Verizon's yet-to-be-confirmed entry, "misleading" and "dishonest", while Lacavera released a lengthy blog Tuesday describing the Big Three's remarks as a "veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of misinformation."
"As the bombardment of advertisements from the Big Three continues, it’s important to recognize the noise for what it is: a desperate stand by the Big Three to protect their cozy and highly-profitable wireless market oligopoly," Lacavera wrote.
"No matter how loudly they protest, the reality is the government’s spirited pursuit of a more competitive market is in the best interest of all Canadians."
Moore, locked in a public tug-of-war with the three telecoms, is sticking to the government's goal of ensuring there are at least four major wireless carriers in all parts of Canada, but he told the Huffington Post that the rules would not be loosened any further.
“I just don’t think it would serve the Canadian industry,” Moore said. “I think it would upset a balance that I think we have achieved.”
Following the rally, the CEP and CAW will formally unite at a convention on Saturday and form Unifor, which will be the largest private-sector union in Canada.
Also on HuffPost:
Designed by <a href="http://www.yankodesign.com/2009/08/18/phone-that-shames-the-weather-bureau/">Seunghan Song</a>, this "window phone" concept will reflect current weather conditions on the screen. To input text, you just blow on the screen to switch modes, then write with your finger as a stylus.
<a href="http://petitinvention.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/cobalto-zafiro/">Mac Funamizu's "Cobalto"</a> has taken the cell phone concept way into the future, with an almost all-glass design. The phone would feature 3D imaging that could make Google Maps even more useful, as demonstrated here.
<a href="http://www.behance.net/Gallery/leaf-phone/325190">Anastasia Zharkova's organic "Leaf Phone"</a> melds aesthetic creativity with functionality. The winding stem of the leaves could be wrapped around a user's arm, wrist, neck, or other body part.
<a href="http://www.yankodesign.com/2009/12/03/sticky-phone/">Liu Hsiang-Ling's "Sticker Phone"</a> has a solar panel on the back of the phone and a curved surface that will allow it to stick to a window via suction to charge. Plus, you won't lose your phone somewhere on your desk.
A pop-up phone! <a href="http://www.yankodesign.com/2009/06/08/phone-ear-phone-phone/">Ilshat Garipov's "Kambala" </a> is a fascinating concept that features a center piece that can pop out to fit into your ear, making it an earphone. In theory, it will also have the ability to match your skin tone, rendering it almost invisible.
<a href="http://www.behance.net/Gallery/PACKET-phone/162229">Emir Rifat's "Packet" phone</a> won first place at the Istanbul Design Week 2007. The tiny phone starts off at 5 cm square, then folds out as needed for different functions.
<a href="http://www.yankodesign.com/2009/11/30/phone-fashion/">Jung Dae Hoon's "Dial"</a> concept takes the rotary phone of the 'good ol' days' and combines it with mobile technology and modern jewelry sensibilities.
Nokia's "Morph" phone uses nanotechnology to create a flexible body and transparent screen that can be molded to whatever shape is the most convenient for its user. The nanotech could even clean itself.
Natural Year Phone
People tend to keep cell phones for only two years, and <a href="http://www.yankodesign.com/2008/12/08/now-thats-a-grassy-phone/">Je-Hyun Kim’s Natural Year Phone</a> concept takes that into consideration. The phone is designed to naturally biodegrade after the two years are up.
Fujitsu Contest "Pebble" Concept Phone
At first glance, <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2009/10/06/fujitsu-cellphone-design-contest-yields-mind-blowing-results-ha/">this entrant</a> into Fujitsu's cell phone design contest looks like an ordinary paperweight. Actually, it's a cleverly disguised phone. As the picture shows, the small black dot can be transformed into a keypad, media panel or web browser depending on what corner of the plastic handset you drag it to.
<a href="http://www.industrialdesignserved.com/Gallery/Concept-Phone-aoeMobile-Scripta/244692">Aleksander Mukomelov's "Mobile Script"</a> phone starts with a stylish and sleek small screen, then reveals a larger touchscreen hidden within the phone's body to meet all of your media device needs.
<a href="http://www.yankodesign.com/2010/01/25/deaf-phone/">Suhyun Kim's stylish "Visual Sound"</a> voice-to-text concept phone for deaf people is a huge step from current systems like teletypewriters.
Coca-Cola Powered Phone
Forget solar power, electricity, or fuel: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/10/coke-powered-cellphone-am_n_416839.html">Daizi Zheng's concept phone</a> is powered by Coca-Cola.
NTT DoCoMo's prototype "wearable terminal" brings us one step closer to being cyborgs. You stick your index finger in your ear to hear and speak through the microphone at the back of the wristband, then snap your fingers to connect or disconnect the call.
This <a href="http://gizmodo.com/320328/pen-phone-design-is-smallest-yet">pen phone</a> is one of the thinnest and smallest phone designs yet. While it's designed to be connected mainly via a bluetooth headset, the top and bottom of the phone do include a receiver and earpiece.
Nokia Flexible Concept Phone
This Nokia concept is made of memory plastic that can be molded to fit around a wrist, for example, then can be heated to return to it's original shape.
Fujitsu Concept Phone
A concept phone from Fujitsu's cellphone design contest.