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As Big Telecom ramps up lobbying, will government cave?

It looks like the Big Three telecom giants are fighting hard to maintain their stranglehold over our wireless market, and over Canadians’ wallets. The Big Three have been on the back foot since pressure from tens of thousands of Canadians won positive new customer protection rules last year, along with a clear government commitment to increase choice and lower prices. Now Big Telecom is pushing back. They’re sitting on huge piles of cash after years of price-gouging Canadians with some of the highest prices in the industrialized world. It seems they’ve been using that money to hire expensive Ottawa lobbyists to pressure the government.

This report by the Hill Times (paywalled) highlights how the Big Three hired high-flying lobbyist firms to directly pressure Industry Minister James Moore:

"The companies also had various consulting firms working for them: Hill & Knowlton Strategies for BCE Inc.; Crestview Strategies and The Rothwell Group for Telus, who added Norton Rose’s Derek Burney, the head of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) transition team in 2006, in October."

" lobbyists contacted his policy director in December and PMO issues management director Alykhan Velshi in November. Bell board member Carole Taylor communicated with Mr. Moore twice in November"

This kind of pressure certainly doesn’t come cheap. Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: the Big Three are basically using money they gouged from you to keep you trapped in their poor service and high prices.

Their aim is clear - to put a stop to the positive progress we’ve made, and to dissuade the government from moving further forward. After all, despite the new customer protections, we’ve still got a long way to go to open up our wireless market to greater choice and lower prices. Big Telecom would be quite content with a status quo that maintained their ability to act as gatekeepers, blocking Canadians from more affordable alternatives.

It gets worse - as Big Telecom giants Bell and Telus have also been calling on the government to lift all foreign ownership restrictions. This would throw the door wide open to foreign telecom giants - allowing the likes of AT&T or Verizon to simply buy out the Big Three. This would make a bad telecom situation even worse - as it would cement the stranglehold of telecom giants over the market, blocking independent providers, and locking Canada’s sky-high rates in place.

Will the government cave under this pressure? We’re hoping they won’t - after all, they’ve made a clear promise to Canadians to lower prices, a promise underlined personally by Prime Minister Harper at his party’s convention last fall. We intend to hold the government to its promises. But already there are worrying signs, with Industry Minister Moore seemingly changing his tune on his government’s pledge to create at least four major players in wireless markets across Canada.

As Mobile Syrup points out, last June Minister Moore was crystal clear in his determination to “promote at least four wireless providers in every region of the country” - but more recently he’s been backtracking, saying instead that “Whatever dynamic emerges that the marketplace can support, the marketplace will decide that.”

This is simply not good enough. Canadians know they pay such high prices because just three telecom giants control over 90% of the market. For prices to go down, we need more choice. And the way ahead is clear - Minister Moore needs to lift Big Telecom’s blockade of independent options, and ensure that every Canadian has an affordable alternative to the Big Three.

With the government coming under huge pressure from Big Telecom, it’s never been more important that they hear from Canadians. We know that pressure from ordinary Canadians is the one thing that can defeat this expensive lobbyist push.

Tell James Moore it’s time to open the networks for lower prices and greater choice at - and take a few minutes to use our quick tool to send a letter to the editor of your local paper.


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