Like many of my friends, I am bemused by the intensity and tone of the advertising onslaught being waged by Bell, Telus, and Rogers aimed at preventing Verizon from entering the Canadian market. I come to this "debate" with two distinct biases:
1. I have had more than my fair share of surprise and gigantic mobile phone bills. Like many unsuspecting consumers, I failed to read the fine with the microscope needed. But even if I did, the technobabble designed to confuse was another barrier. The first line of defense for the telco's are their toll free "help" lines. There, case studies should be written on how not to treat customers; and
2. I think competition is a good thing for consumers and the economy.
The CEOs of the country's largest telecommunications firms are crying foul that the Government of Canada is poised to allow American wireless behemoth Verizon from acquiring small Canadian carriers, presumably to become a much bigger one and compete with Bell, Telus, and Rogers.
The whining of their advertising campaign barrage is more than unseemly; it is hypocritical and intellectually dishonest. The foundation of an expensive and deeply annoying public relations and lobbying exercise conveys one message: Verizon as a competitor wouldn't be "fair" for Canada, and our jobs, well-being, and very way of life are at risk.
When you're the biggest guys on the block and used to having your way -- especially with customers -- competition isn't always a walk in the park. In fact, it's pretty tough. Usually, you have to work harder, improve productivity, innovate, take really good care of your customers, and keep costs and prices as low as possible. CEO and management bonuses are usually tied to performance and profitability, so in a competitive environment, they are not - or at least shouldn't be - as predictable as Bernie Madoff's infamous investment "returns".
It's easy to parade yourself as a pure and virtuous "free enterprise" capitalist when you are the biggest guys on the block and the competitive landscape is a small exclusive country club. But throw a monkey wrench into that cozy space by injecting a bit of serious competition and these exemplars of free market virtue squeal like little girls. That's what happened to the "Big Three."
I have no great love for Rogers cellular, particularly its abysmal customer service, but company founder, Ted Rogers, was a brilliant visionary and risk-taking entrepreneur that built his enterprise from scratch with his bare hands. Most of his net worth was tied up in the company he created and nurtured.
I have more of an issue with Bell and Telus and their CEO's George Cope and Darren Entwistle. But unlike Ted Rogers, Cope and Entwistle are not major shareholders of the companies they lead; they are managers. I'm sure they are competent ones, but they are not builders as Rogers was.
Bell and Telus (both were once Bell Canada) were built with money from Canadian taxpayers. The CRTC was their watchdog, and the federal Cabinet had the final say in rates, much like Canada Post remains today.
So, if they can ask if Verizon's arrival in Canada - which would increase competition and lower prices and improve service to customers - is "fair" should we not ask if it's fair that Darren Entwistle earned just over $11 million in compensation in 2012, compared with $10.1 million in 2011? Is it fair that Nadir Mohamed, the head of Rogers, who earned $8.6 million? Or that George Cope, CEO of Bell, earned $4.3 million? Together, they earned $24 million last year alone. Their companies did ok, too. Bell earned a profit of $2.7 billion last year; Rogers $1.7 billion; and Telus $1.3 billion.
Although I don't think any hired hand, especially one who is not an owner, deserves anywhere near what these executives rake in, that is a judgment for their boards and shareholders to make, no one else.
By the same token, Canadians should ignore their orchestrated and shrill scare tactics of the Bell, Telus and Rogers. These ads are misleading and are designed to stoke fears, tug at our heartstrings, and appeal to our patriotism.
It's all nonsense.
We have nothing to fear from Verizon or anyone else injecting a healthy and needed dose of competition on an entitled and complacent corporate Canada. The long-suffering consumer will certainly benefit. And eventually, a new breed of corporate director and CEO will emerge. Hopefully, instead of crying to mommy in Ottawa at the mere prospect of a competitive threat, they'll do what Canadians are perfectly equipped to do, but haven't: Take on the world and win.