Government won't interfere in wireless texting charges: Prentice
Minister of Industry Jim Prentice said Friday the government had no intention of introducing new legislation to regulate cellphone companies over changes in text messaging services.
Prentice had met with the heads of Bell Mobility and Telus over the companies' new texting charges introduced in July, which called for customers whose cellphone plans did not include texting bundles to be charged 15 cents for incoming text messages. Previously, customers without text plans were only charged for outgoing messages.
The charges were not popular with consumer groups, and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton called them a "cash grab" and called for the government to step in.
But Prentice said in a statement Friday that after meeting with the two companies, he was "assured that customers charged for spam could contact their service provider to have the charges removed from their bills."
"Given these undertakings by Bell Mobility and Telus, I would encourage consumers dissatisfied with existing plans to seek alternatives. The telecommunications market in Canada is dynamic — choice is available," he said.
Prentice said the government's auction of wireless spectrum was designed to create a more competitive market and more choice for consumers.
"Based on the level of competitive bidding that took place, we think we are well on our way to achieving those goals," he said.
Bell's new texting charges went into effect Friday. Telus announced a similar plan, with its changes set to take effect on Aug. 24.
Consumers have protested the move as a cash grab in response to the increasing reliance on text messaging in Canada. In the first three months of 2008, Canadians sent 4.1 billion text messages, according the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association. In 2007, Canadians sent more than 10 billion messages.
Two Quebec residents launched class action lawsuits against each of the companies last month, and the federal New Democratic Party also started an online petition and Facebook group to protest the changes. The Facebook Group, dubbed "I’m against the text message cash grab" has attracted more than 36,000 members since it formed a month ago.
NDP Leader Jack Layton issued a followup statement Friday, calling on the government to implement legislation to protect consumers from the charges.
"Cellphone companies want to charge consumers 15 cents for each text message they receive, including spam," said Layton. "Cellphone companies are gouging consumers, and our government stands back and watches."
Bell spokesperson Mark Langton confirmed Prentice's statement, saying the company has strong anti-spam filters on its network and would have charges from spam removed.
Bell's introduction of the new charges coincides with the company's launch of a new marketing campaign, centred around the tagline "La vie est Bell" in Quebec and "Today just got better" in the rest of the country.
President and CEO George Cope, who took over leadership of the company on July 11, said in a statement the new branding is part of the company's new strategy and new goal to "be recognized by customers as Canada's leading communications company."
Just two weeks after taking over at Bell, Cope initiated a shakeup at the company, cutting 2,500 management positions. The company is also changing the names of its business units: Bell residential phone service becomes Bell Home Phone, Bell Sympatico changes to Bell Internet and Bell ExpressVu becomes Bell TV.