A grassroots group has launched an online petition urging Canadians to speak out against domination of the cell phone market by the country's big three wireless companies – Rogers Communications Inc., BCE Inc. and Telus Corp.

"We're calling for a level playing field," Steve Anderson, executive director of OpenMedia.ca told CBC News in a phone interview.

"Canadians don't want the big three to knock out the independents and have a stranglehold over the future of our communication. They want choice and affordability."

More than 40,000 people have signed the Stop the Cellphone Squeeze petition since it was launched last week. The campaign has also been endorsed by Wind Mobile, NDP Digital Affairs critic Charlie Angus as well as Liberal critic for Industry and Consumer Affairs Geoff Regan.

Telus spokesman Jim Johannsson counters that "the presence of three national wireless carriers and six regional providers gives Canada one of the six most competitive wireless market structures in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development)."  

The move by OpenMedia.ca comes as the federal government prepares to hold a wireless spectrum auction of more powerful 700 MHz frequency. Wireless companies need access to the spectrum to deliver high-quality mobile and internet services.

OpenMedia.ca wants federal government set aside a certain percentage of that spectrum specifically for new entrants, in the hopes of spurring competition.

Big Telecom already controls 94 per cent of the wireless market in Canada and is seeking to gobble up the rest in order to shut out small startups and independent operators such as Wind Mobile, said Anderson.

Domination of the cellphone marketplace by a few providers means higher prices and longer, locked-in contracts, as well as poor customer service, he added.

However, Johannsson said that OpenMedia is not proposing a level playing field.

"They are proposing spectrum-set asides which favor new-entrants and greatly distorts the price of spectrum required by carriers to deliver wireless services.  TELUS has proposed spectrum caps as the fairest way for the Minister to meet competing objectives of continuing to encourage investment in all urban and rural regions of the country by incumbent carriers while also promoting the government’s competition agenda," he wrote in an email to CBC News.

A 2009 OECD report found that Canadians pay among the highest cellphone rates in the world, including the highest roaming fees. If Big Telecom succeeds in blocking the independents' access to the spectrum, prices will go even higher, contracts will get tighter and customer complaints will increase, said Anderson.

"Independents in the market now act as a check on the big three at least."

 Johannsson points to other comparative pricing studies such as Nordicity, Merrill Lynch Global Wireless Matrix, CRTC Communications Monitoring Report and The World Economic Foundation that all rank Canada better or on par with other developed countries around the world with regard to wireless pricing.

OpenMedia.ca plans to present the petition to Industry Minister Christian Paradis and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It is the same group that was behind the half a million strong Stop The Meter campaign protesting usage-based billing and the Stop Online Spying campaign, which is credited with preventing bills allowing electronic surveillance from being tied into the government's omnibus crime bill.

"It's a pivotal moment," said Anderson. "If the government hands over the keys to our digital economy to the big three, Canadians will end up paying the price because that will have a negative impact on our economy, entrepreneurship and democracy."