THE BLOG

Instead of Listening, Big Telecom Hung Up on Us

04/18/2013 12:21 EDT | Updated 06/17/2013 05:12 EDT
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Canadians and even the CRTC know our cell phone market is broken. Canadians pay some of the highest prices for some of the worst service in the industrialized world, and as Openmedia.ca showed in our recent report, Time for an Upgrade, we've been subjected to systemic mistreatment by the Big Three cell phone providers -- Bell, Telus and Rogers. These service providers control almost 94 per cent of the cell phone market, and the lack of fair access to independent providers drives up prices for Canadians.

We hoped that by documenting the effects of these systemic problems, the government and the Big Three would have to acknowledge that Canada's cell phone market is broken. This week Industry Minister Christian Paradis finally began to respond (albeit inadequately) to the recommendations in our report that would help facilitate new independents entering the market. But instead of listening to the stories we helpfully pulled together for them, Big Telecom lobbyists have responded by essentially plugging their ears and callously refusing to take ownership over these experiences.

Amplifying citizens' voices

One of the primary criticisms leveled at OpenMedia.ca centres around our showcasing of citizens' experiences, which Big Telecom argues have been addressed by the CRTC Wireless Code of Conduct hearing, and that the service providers themselves have resolved -- a surprising claim given the number of citizen stories we received that highlighted poor customer service and efforts by Big Telecom to dodge the issue or shift the blame.

Big Telecom is clearly acting to undermine the will of Canadians, as was made clear by the way that they approached the Wireless Code hearings; industry lobbyist group the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CTWA) and in fact all the Big Telecom representatives made it clear that they want the new national wireless rules to override the strong protections built into existing provincial rules, giving Big Telecom a way to avoid taking responsibility.

Meanwhile, we have price-gouged Canadians spending their time creating tool kits to help fellow Canadians fend off Big Telecom's punitive activities. If Big Telecom was actually listening with an open mind, they would be thanking us for identifying the core problems with the cell phone market and presenting a road map to fix it.

Instead, Big Telecom is doing all it can to deny reality. Case in point, following the release of our report, Telus responded that problems with wireless service are a myth. It further demonstrated how out of touch they are with customer needs at the Wireless Code hearing when their Chief Marketing Officer Dave Fuller actually said cell phone customers would not want a cap on roaming fees.

Then they released a long-winded 42-page response to our report which criticized us for listening to Canadians and reinforced Big Telecom's talking points, despite experts like University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist and award-winning technology journalist and commentator Peter Nowak repeatedly supporting our findings.

A brief history of Big Telecom undermining our country's national interest

Sadly, this is par for the course with Big Telecom, who have consistently undermined Canadians' efforts to democratically put in place digital policies that enable open and affordable access to wireless services and the Internet. Back in the 2008-09 battle for crucial Internet openness rules (Net Neutrality) the Big Three opposed a diverse coalition of businesses, public interest organizations and some of the original architects of the Internet. OpenMedia.ca's Steve Anderson debated Big Telecom reps more than once on the subject and fought rules that would prevent them from selectively blocking or slowing down web services every step along the way. Enforcement remains a work in progress but in the end we won the rules.

The Big Three were also on the wrong side of the Internet metering (usage-based billing) debate. The incumbents wanted the CRTC to add new regulations that would enable them to put a pay meter on every Canadian's Internet connection -- they sought a pay-per-byte future for all Canadians including those that use independent providers. This would have made Internet use far more expensive, crushed our digital economy, and put the few independent ISP options we have out of business.

Last week Big Telecom's anti-Canadian practices were further highlighted when Wind Mobile, Mobilicity, and Public Mobile announced that they were quitting the CWTA (the wireless industry lobby group that represents service providers) because it "is taking a position against not only consumers, but also against the interests of smaller players," and favouring only the interests of the Big Three.

What Big Telecom can do if they want to listen to Canadians

If Telus is listening to customers and trying to improve, they should have no problem with the recommendations (see here and here) we made for the CRTC and Industry Canada that would empower and safeguard Canadian phone and Internet users. When Big Telecom unleashed their army of PR agents and lobbyists to attack rather than listen to our report, it was odd that they barely mentioned the actual recommendations put together based on input from Canadians and policy experts.

If Big Telecom really wants to begin to listen to Canadians, here's what it can do:

1. Stop suggesting that our cell phone market is working for Canadians -- it's insulting.

2. Apologize for the systematic mistreatment Canadians have experienced from cell phone companies.

3. Endorse the roadmap we created from Canadians' input and work with us to fix our broken cell phone market.

If the Big Three feel their services can really compete on a level playing field where Canadians have equal access to independent providers, they should have no problem adhering to the above three points. Considering their history, I don't think anyone will be holding their breath.

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