Wireless competition ad campaign leaves Canadians angry

Close to a year after the federal government launched a $9 million slick advertising campaign announcing Ottawa wants more competition and lower prices in the wireless market for consumers, there are fewer competitors and prices have, on average, gone up.

$9M ad campaign about cellphone service faces backlash

A $9-million ad campaign taking aim at the telecom industry angered Canadians but failed to effect any change, results of a government survey found. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Months after the federal government launched a $9-million advertising campaign announcing it wanted more competition and lower prices in the wireless market for consumers, there are fewer competitors and prices have, on average, gone up.

“They had all the trumpet and fanfare. But when it comes time to actually implementing these policies, nothing happens,” NDP MP Glenn Thibeault said.

Industry Canada’s fall advertising blitz on radio, TV, and the internet did help raise the ire of Canadians though. CBC News has learned that, according to a new government-commissioned poll, the most common message gleaned from about 1,400 respondents was that mobile phone users are being gouged and the industry lacks competition.

Rates have gone up and there's going to be no more little guys very soon.- Dann Verner, cellphone user

Many Canadians remain unhappy — as unhappy as the actors in the government TV commercial who look gloomily at cellphone options or their bill.

Only four per cent of respondents in the poll figured out taxpayers paid for the ads. It was clear to cellphone owner Dann Verner who said, “If they had followed through with what they advertised they were going to do, I'd be fine with [the government spending $9 million].”

The actors in the ad call out for “more choice” and “lower prices.” But, months later, the Big 3 wireless companies that dominate the market have raised prices on many plans and big player Telus has bought small player, Public Mobile.

Verner, a devoted Public Mobile customer, must decide by the end of the month if he will move to Telus or another company. But the single father on a fixed income is worried about costs because he says he must buy a new phone and can’t find a plan as economical as his current one.

“It looks like I'll probably have to go without a phone for a month before I can afford to buy a phone,” he said.

Unexpected backlash

Verner feels let down: “I had to watch those ads over and over again saying they were going to give the little guy more of a chance, lower rates, and rates have gone up and there's going to be no more little guys very soon.”

Canada’s two other small carriers, Mobilicity and Wind, are struggling for survival. The Big 3 — Telus, Bell Canada Enterprises, and Rogers — still dominate the market and Telus wants to buy Mobilicity. And there are still no new national players.

“It just continues to show you that the Conservatives don’t really have a plan when it comes to the digital economy, when it comes to telecoms and when it comes to protecting Canadians,” said Thibeault.

However, a spokesman for Industry Canada, Jake Enwright, says the government definitely has a set mission: “Our government’s wireless policy is clear: more competition leads to lower prices and more choices for Canadian consumers,” he said. 

Enwright also said Ottawa won’t approve any buy-out where it believes consumers will suffer. A much touted cap on domestic roaming fees announced last year may be law before the fall, he added.

He said the the $9-million advertising campaign was necessary to make sure Canadians are clear on the government’s wireless policy.

There is also a wireless code coming that will require carriers to limit some fees. But if the Big 3 win a current legal battle, the code could only apply to their new customers. Industry Minister James Moore announced today that he plans to intervene in the case.

Now that more regional players have entered the marketplace, Industry Canada recently announced “consumers are the big winners.” But Verner, who said he’s facing higher cellphone bills, doesn’t see it that way.

“That’s not consumers that won big," he said. 

"It was the Big 3 that won big again.”


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