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How to Make a Bad Telecom Situation Even Worse

10/16/2013 12:32 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

As we all know, Canada's telecoms market is a mess -- just three giant conglomerates control over 93 per cent of the cell phone market, and this lack of choice means Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for horrible service.

Canadians have been looking to Industry Minister James Moore to rein in the giant Big Telecom gatekeepers, and open the market to greater choice and lower prices for cell phone users. The way forward is clear -- Canadians have worked together on a crowd-sourced road map forward, a road map which would finally open the networks to more affordable, independent Canadian providers.

Needless to say, Big Telecom's worst nightmare is having indie providers have access to the same infrastructure at the same cost -- the Big Three have enjoyed years of regulatory coddling which has enabled them to block the smaller, affordable providers from reaching Canadians. A great example of an affordable Canadian provider is Toronto-based Ting.com, which can only offer its service in the U.S. because the Big Three are blocking them from operating here.

So it's unsurprising that Big Telecom giants have an entirely different vision for the future of our wireless market -- a vision that may surprise anyone who followed their flag-waving antics during the great Verizon debacle over the summer months.

Since 2001 Telus CEO Darren Entwistle has been unashamedly calling for Big Telecom to be given access to more foreign capital -- this would allow Verizon, or AT&T, or Sprint to come in and buy out Bell, Rogers, and Telus, and it would simply give our giant telecom conglomerates yet more capital to cement their dominance into place, block indie providers, and price-gouge Canadians.

This is a terrible idea for a number of important reasons:

  • It would cement in place the control and dominance of large, unaccountable telecoms conglomerates over the everyday Internet and cell phone use of Canadians.
  • Because just a few giant conglomerates would still control the market, Canadians would still pay the same sky-high bills as they do already -- we'd just be paying those bills to foreign big telecom rather than Canadian companies.
  • It's a lazy and superficial response to a complex challenge -- throwing money at the problem is not the answer to our broken telecom market.
  • Canada's cell phone and Internet access market would remain just as broken as it is today. Until we fix the rules so Canadians can get unfettered access to independent providers, new capital for Big Telecom will just go to reinforcing its dominance -- that's a sure bet.
  • It would further suppress small Canadian startups -- the very folks we desperately need if Canadians are to get the choice and affordability they deserve.
  • We already have sensible restrictions that encourage investment in small telecom firms with under 10 per cent market share. This is a relatively balanced approach that enables affordable, independent providers to receive investment, without allowing the whole telecom market to be taken over by giant foreign conglomerates.

Minister Moore has promised Canadians that he will fix our broken wireless market -- his own department's website promises "more choice." But "more choice" is the last thing that will happen if we let Big Telecom get special access to investment at the expense of Canadian startup providers.

That's why Canadians will be watching Wednesday's throne speech closely. We're hoping Minister Moore is smart enough to avoid quick-fix tinkering that would cement the dominance of high-cost telecoms. He'll be letting down the hopes of millions of Canadians if he does so.

Canadians have spoken out loud and clear about the way forward. The answer is not giving Big Telecom more advantages and even more money. The answer is right here at home -- let's focus on our home-grown Canadian independent providers.

Let's not tinker with downstream regulations, but rather look to upstream structural solutions through common sense rules that will ensure Canadians get unfettered access to indie providers. Let's liberate the Canadian network infrastructure from Big Telecom's grip and ensure every provider can enjoy the same cost-based access to reach Canadian customers. That would ironically be "fair for Canada."

Send Minister Moore a clear message at https://openmedia.ca/gatekeepers - tell him to stop Big Telecom gatekeepers from blocking these independent providers from reaching Canadians - it's the only way for Canadians to get the choice and lower prices we deserve.

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