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Amid Grassroots Furor, Canadian Telecom Monopolies Forced to Lower Mobile Fees

BY Elisabeth Fraser | Thursday, June 6 2013

iPhone screenshot mentioning Canadian coffee chain Tim Horton's (flickr/Matt Hurst)

A community-driven, non-profit internet group is claiming victory regarding recently-announced changes to Canadian cellphone regulations.

OpenMedia.cacommended the decision of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to allow cellphone users to break their contracts without penalty after two years, and to put a cap on additional data and roaming data charges. In addition, service providers are now required to write their customer contracts in plain(er) English.

Telecom companies have until December 2 to comply for all new contracts, a deadline the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association complains is too short.

In addition, the following day, Industry Minister Christian Paradis announced the government had ruled to block telecom giant Telus Corp.’s application to transfer Mobilicity’s spectrum assets their way in a $380 million takeover bid. Those spectrum assets will now be set aside for new entrants into the market, a long-time OpenMedia demand.

OpenMedia was among groups lobbying the CRTC on the issue. It launched an online campaign called “Demand Choice” started an online petition which to date has garnered over 56,000 signatures.

OpenMedia also submitted a report to the CRTC after it announced it would hold public hearings into Canada’s wireless code late last year. The report, titled, “Time for an Upgrade”, followed an online appeal for cell phone horror stories from fed-up Canadians.

Despite the CRTC announcement, consumer-rights advocates say Canada still has a long way to go when it comes to cell phone service. The largely de-regulated industry is monopolized by three service providers — Bell, Rogers, and Telus — which together control a whopping 94 per cent of the market. OpenMedia mounted a campaign, “Stop the Squeeze,” in protest of this dominance.

The lack of regulation and market competition has thus far left Canadian consumers getting stuck with little choice but to accept sky-high service rates, ranked amongst the highest in the developed world, according to a 2009 study from the international Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). And, if the cell phone horror stories collected by OpenMedia are to be believed, those pricey rates don’t translate into good customer service.

OpenMedia is maintaining a cautiously optimistic attitude in the face of these new developments, and it seems the minister is listening – the same day he announced the government was blocking the Telus/Mobilicity takeover, Paradis granted a one-on-one 15-minute phone interview with OpenMedia Executive Director Steve Anderson. Prior to the phone meeting, OpenMedia solicited questions for the minister from its members via social media.

I wish Paradis had answered more questions — I certainly had lots from people on social media,” wrote Anderson on his blog, post-chat. “But I think we should be thankful that Paradis has started moving in the right direction and took the time to reach out to us for a brief chat.”

OpenMedia doesn’t plan to drop the pressure on the minister, who is scheduled to unveil his new policy on the matter in June. Anderson’s blog post end with the words, “More soon … Now it's time for some action.”

Elisabeth Fraser is a freelance Canadian journalist. She lives in Montreal

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