House Call with Carol Hughes

Where is the competition in Canada’s telecom sector?

The internet is always a concern in Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing where the challenges range from connectivity to cost and every imaginable aspect in between. It is a revolutionary technology, but the promise of that revolution hasn’t truly settled on Northern or remote parts of Canada. While Canadians in larger centres enjoy quick service and some level of competition that drives pricing for internet and phone services, both become scarce as city limits fade and the rural or remote reality sets in. If competition is meant to level a market, the lack of competition in large parts of the North can help explain why too many of us pay too much for so little. With outcomes like that, it would make sense to ensure that competition in this sector is encouraged to be as robust as possible. Of course, that isn’t the case and the proposed takeover of Shaw by Rogers will only further shrink the pool of competition among Canada’s telecom sector.

If the internet wasn’t already considered an essential service, the pandemic has shown how it should be. But even before COVID hit, the growth in online activity from the federal government alone indicated that internet access is considered a basic part of most Canadians’ lives. Proof is found in the manner that the government’s community offices closed as federal services migrated online. Phone service followed suit which is why it is increasingly difficult to raise a voice on the phone when calling into a government department. And that isn’t the only way internet service has become essential.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, Canadians have increased their reliance on this technology to stay connected online during times when they can’t be together in person. People came to depend on their cell phone and internet services for work, school, commerce and to stay connected with family and loved ones, but prices continue to skyrocket, and families are faced with big bills every month.

There have been many pandemic profiteers and big telecom can be included among them. They have been accused of gouging Canadians and continue to make massive profits in a time where most families are struggling to get by. This is why New Democrats are telling the government that a merger between two of Canada’s biggest providers will just make our challenges bigger and the problems that stem from limited competition worse.

For generations, these telecom giants have essentially had no competition. They make huge profits, and government after government just let that happen. That’s why Canadians pay some of the highest rates in the world for cell phone and internet services. Despite the potential to ensure competition through bandwidth auctions and regulations, governments have been reluctant to use the best tools available to them, preferring to ‘ask nicely’—a strategy that isn’t paying dividends.

This is why there are repeated calls for action on this front. The pandemic has taken any doubt from the notion that internet and phone services are essential elements of our lives, which is why the government must act to enforce price gaps and promote real competition. The time for protecting the profits of telecom giants has to end for Canadians to overcome our digital disadvantage.

Canadians deserve better access at better prices to secure these essential services. The path to those goals will not run through anti-competitive practices like the merger of Shaw and Rogers which is why New Democrats are telling the government it is time to put the brakes on that and focus on building diversity and true competition into Canada’s telecom sector.