More competition in the wireless marketplace will mean lower cellphone prices for Canadians, Industry Minister James Moore says.
New competitors in wireless, such as Wind, already have brought down the cost of cellphone plans by 18-20 per cent over the past few years, Moore said in an interview with CBC’s Metro Morning. Nevertheless, he said, Canadians still are spending too much.
Moore is travelling across Canada defending Ottawa's telecom policies in the face of an ad campaign by the big three wireless providers saying the entry of U.S.-based Verizon Communications into the Canadian market could skew the industry toward one giant competitor.
"These large companies have very high profits, the highest profits in the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development], at the same time Canadian consumers are paying some of the highest cellphone rates in the OECD. I think we can do better than that as a country," Moore said.
He said Canadians know that more competition means greater choice and that leads to lower prices.
The big three carriers have become fixated on Verizon and whether it will enter Canada, Moore said.
"I know for the big three with their ad campaign, it’s all about Verizon. For us, it’s not," he said.
"If Verizon comes, it will be good for consumers in some ways, I think it will be a challenge in other ways … But if Verizon doesn’t come, equally, the way we’ve designed our policies, we are going to have more competition in the marketplace from other players possibly … as well."
In an interview with CBC's Lang O'Leary Exchange later in the day Moore said if the rules were skewed in favour of foreign competitors, companies such as AT&T and Vodafone would likely have investigated the Canadian market.
"Other large players have not because they realize that this is a difficult market not only because of the nature of the market and its size, but also because of the regulations associated with operating in Canada," he said.
He dismissed an argument made by Rogers that Canadians would be saddled with slower speeds because the three big carriers are fighting for two bands of spectrum in an upcoming auction.
Canadians expect and deserve world-class technology and world-class service, Moore said.
Union worried about national security
As Moore defends Ottawa's telecom policies, a union representing workers in the telecommunications industry says it is concerned about Canadians' privacy if Verizon is permitted into the Canadian wireless marketplace.
The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada is calling on Stephen Harper's government to explain how it intends to review and address national security concerns related to the New York-based company.
In the U.S., Verizon has co-operated with the National Security Agency to share personal data on millions of its U.S. customers. A secret U.S., leaked in June, gave the NSA authority to to collect data from all of Verizon's land and mobile customers.
Now the CEP is raising the spectre that Canadians would be subject to the same surveillance if Verizon decides to enter the wireless market here.
"Canadians need to know that their government is reviewing Verizon's potential threat to national security, and what steps the U.S. company will have to take to mitigate any concerns," CEP president Dave Coles said in a news release on Tuesday.
"In their bid to woo Verizon, we hope the Harper government isn't ignoring its responsibility to do a security review."
Verizon has not confirmed it will enter the Canadian market. But it has expressed interest in the public spectrum being auctioned off this fall for wireless carriers and in two small struggling wireless companies – Wind and Mobilicity – that are potential takeover targets.
The federal government has forbidden Canadian companies Bell, Telus and Rogers from bidding for Wind and Mobilicity and has structured the spectrum auction to favour new entrants to the market.
The CEP represents thousands of workers at BCE Inc.'s Bell Canada and last week expressed opposition to Ottawa’s telecom policies, which are geared to getting a fourth competitor into the Canadian market.
The union called on the Harper government to set up a Crown corporation that would be the country's fourth major wireless carrier. At that point, it raised concerns about job losses in Canada if Verizon entered the market.
Now it is calling on the Harper government to assess national security implications if Verizon signals a desire to enter the market.
It argues that Verizon has to comply with NSA orders to hand over personal data and allow access to private conversations. The NSA is restricted from spying on Americans, but has free rein on foreigners.
"Canadians who boycott Verizon out of fear that their personal information could be delivered to U.S. authorities will not necessarily be able to sleep easy either," Coles said.
"The government's mandatory access rule gives Verizon the right to use the major Canadian telecom companies' wireless networks, which currently carry some of the country's most secure and private communications."
Moore dismissed national security concerns, saying Canadians' privacy is assured.
"Protecting privacy is the law of Canada, will always be the law of Canada no matter who’s doing business in Canada," he told the Toronto Star.