Efforts to improve Canadian access to internet and cell phone services


Liberals urge more internet, cellphone competition

October 30, 2009

The Liberals are calling for stronger competition and rules on internet and cellphone services.

"We have a real competition problem in this country that is reflected in the high prices Canadian consumers pay for service," said consumer affairs critic Dan McTeague in a statement. "We need some real action with concrete proposals to lower prices and improve cellphone and internet service for urban and rural Canadians."

The Liberals, in the policy statement published Friday, said the net neutrality framework introduced by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last week does not protect consumers from having their internet connections tampered with by service providers.

The decision gave ISPs permission to enact "technical measures," such as the slowing of internet traffic, in order to combat congestion on their networks.

"The recent CRTC decisions do not go far enough to create a truly competitive and open internet environment in Canada," Industry critic Marc Garneau said in the statement. "All internet networks, including wireless networks, must treat all lawful content, applications and services in a non-discriminatory manner."

The policy position specifically calls for the government to follow the example being set in the United States by setting clear principles and regulations on what internet service providers are allowed to do with their networks. ISPs should be required to treat all lawful content, applications and services in a non-discriminatory manner, the Liberals said, and they should have to do so on wireless networks as well.

The Liberals are also urging the creation of clear rules that would give wholesale internet providers access to incumbent networks for the cost of the service, plus a reasonable markup.

On wireless, the Liberals want clear rules that would force existing cellphone companies to share their cellphone towers and sign equitable roaming agreements with the several new providers that are looking to start up. The policy position also wants the reinstatement of the online cellphone calculator that was ditched by the government after lobbying from the wireless industry.

"New entrants are still having a hard time getting into the market to provide services to Canadians," McTeague said. "The federal government should also re-instate the online cell phone calculator to provide greater transparency for Canadians."

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, an industry lobby group, rejected the need for new cellphone rules or the online calculator.

"Canadians have many choices for wireless services in a hypercompetitive marketplace, with more than two dozen wireless service providers, including three national carriers, several strong regional players, numerous high-profile resellers, discount brands and several new companies launching services soon," said association president Bernard Lord, the former Conservative premier of New Brunswick.

"The online tool was so limited in its scope and ability that it would have been completely ineffective, and it would have hindered rather than assisted consumers with making informed purchasing decisions."

The Liberals' position is similar to statements made by the NDP, who also favour new measures to encourage competition in internet and cellphone markets.

The position statement comes a day after the CRTC told potential cellphone provider Globalive that it cannot do business in Canada because it does not meet Canadian ownership and control requirements. The CRTC also issued a decision that endorsed Bell Canada's ability to slow down certain uses of the internet.

The government has said it has already taken steps to boost internet and wireless competition, with spending on expanding rural broadband and an auction of airwaves last year that it said will net new cellphone companies.

A number of recent studies have found Canada's internet and cellphone services to be poor by international standards.

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