Minister Champagne’s 3 Simple Steps to Collapsing Internet Competition in Canada
Our “Minister of Collapse” must undo this affordability disaster of his own making.
Internet competition in Canada has reached a breaking point — and Minister Francois-Phillipe Champagne’s inaction is at the centre of it all.
Every day we’re seeing the rapid extinction of even the small amount of competition that existed in our telecom market. It doesn’t come from nothing; decisions by the CRTC and the government’s laissez-faire approach to managing Big Telecom are making it impossible for small competitors to survive.
The buck stops with Champagne. Lowering Canada’s sky-high Internet bills can only be accomplished through adding competitors in the market and making it possible for the few competitors we already have to stay in business. But at every turn, Minister Champagne’s choices and lack of action are making it systematically certain that we cannot get there.
Setting the Pace: An Anti-Consumer Start
In January 2021, François-Philippe Champagne was appointed Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (ISED) — taking over from his predecessor, Navdeep Bains.
He inherited more than just the title, however. He also inherited a mass petition that demanded answers. In the months leading up to Bains’ exit and Champagne’s appointment, over 50,000 people in Canada had emailed the Minister’s office demanding answers for the turmoil Cabinet threw Internet affordability into with their August 2020 decision.
What kind of decision could drive enough people to fill Rogers Centre to email the ISED Minister? One that caused their Internet bills to shoot up — despite people in Canada already paying some of the highest prices in the world.
People had high hopes that #NewYearNewMinister would mean ISED breaking their months-long silence on the issue and finally correcting their Internet price hikes misstep. But it never came; Minister Champagne ignored the calls to action, beginning his time in office on a sour note that left tens of thousands of everyday people in Canada hanging — and let Big Telecom know to expect a free-for-all era of domination and consolidation.
That complete silence set a disastrous trend for Champagne’s next two years. When he’s had the chance to say nothing, he takes it — whether it be on Big Telecom’s misuse of COVID relief funds, the government’s own report that Canadian Internet prices are once again shooting up, or the explosion of Big Telecom buyouts of their struggling indie competitors throughout 2022.
When he absolutely must speak, he uses kid gloves for Big Telecom and fine words with no enforceable measurements of success for the CRTC. Decisive leadership that demands Big Telecom companies finally treat Canadians better? Of that, we have no sign.
Let us guide you through how Minister Champagne has spent two years thoroughly earning his title.
Minister Champagne’s 3 Steps to Collapse
- Big Telecom buying sprees aren’t his concern. As Big Telecom continues to gobble up independent Internet providers — including EBOX (February 2022), VMedia (August 2022), and Distributel (September 2022) — Champagne has taken exactly zero steps to stop the rapid decline.
- Repeating past failures is a-ok. In August 2022, Xplore Mobile announced it would cease operations — a reminder that simply splitting off mobile services during Big Telecom buyouts (like removing Freedom Mobile from Rogers) is unlikely to work. Once again, Champagne took no notice or action.
- Biggest competition-busting deal ever? Not his problem. Despite paying the issue plenty of lip service, to date Champagne has taken no concrete action to block Rogers from buying Shaw, one of the biggest competition-killing deals in Canadian telecom history.
- Prices are shooting up? Sorry, the Minister is busy. Champagne offered no comment or response to his government’s own summer 2022 report that Internet prices in Canada are again on the rise, and despite already being some of the highest in the world.
- Bring back a system that worked? Eh, nah. In May 2022, Champagne decided to keep in place the CRTC’s Internet price hikes — AKA the interim wholesale rates ruling. This decision to abandon fair wholesale access to networks for small Internet providers has poisoned Internet competition in Canada ever since, destroying the ability for smaller competitors to stay in business, hurting non-profit providers’ ability to keep communities connected, and directly leading to more expensive home Internet bills across Canada.
- Competition reform…do we have to? Engagement with Canadians on reforming Canada’s Competition Act was seriously delayed from Minister Champagne, only opening for input after several months of talk this year. While reforming the Competition Act to combat monopolies in the future is critical, it's still completely up in the air: how does Minister Champagne plan to deal with the collapse of telecom competition that's happening this very moment?
- Big Telecom dividends up after feeding on taxpayer money? Sure, why not! Early into his term as Minister, Champagne immediately sent a friendly signal to Big Telecom that walking all over this government is welcome! When Bell, Rogers, and Telus misused close to a quarter billion dollars of federal COVID-19 relief funds, Champagne did not launch an investigation and never made them pay back a dime.
- Mobile competition that brings affordability in other countries? Not on his watch! After the CRTC’s anti-consumer decision to reject low-cost alternative cell phone providers — AKA MVNOs — from offering services in Canada, Champagne rubber stamped our globally-expensive plans by choosing not to revisit the issue in April 2022.
- Could few customer choices be driving Big 3 complacency? Surely not. After the devastating July 2022 Rogers outage that left millions without access to essential services, Champagne refused to explicitly acknowledge how Rogers’ market dominance led to a disaster of this scale. Instead of taking immediate action to protect people in Canada by cutting telecom giants down to size, the Minister settled for limp measures that fail to address the root cause of the outage.
- Speak loudly and don’t carry any stick. In May 2022, Champagne announced a new policy direction for the CRTC. While the instructions acknowledged the many ways the regulator has failed to protect consumers and drive telecom competition, it offered absolutely zero teeth to make it enforceable. At the end of the day, it has been nothing but pretty words — made clear by ever-increasing deterioration of competition in the months since the direction was announced.
- What’s a few inappropriate meetings between friends? In June 2021, news broke that CRTC chair Ian Scott had been caught having beers at an Ottawa pub with Bell’s CEO. The scandal was widely criticized as demonstrating severe capture of the regulator by Big Telecom’s corporate interests. But Champagne took no action, nor showed any concern, in the face of the CRTC’s blatant impropriety.
- Four more months of the same? Sounds good to the Minister! In September 2022, the government announced that Ian Scott would be staying on for four more months as CRTC chair after his term expired while they continued to look for a replacement — clearly demonstrating that the status quo is just fine with Minister Champagne.
Champagne has the power — and the RESPONSIBILITY — to turn this ship around NOW, before it’s too late. If he doesn’t act now, we’re not just going to be stuck with the dismal status quo; we’re accelerating towards a world where only Bell, Telus and Rogers exist, with a real possibility they may merge too.
That’s why people in Canada are demanding the Minister finally take a stand. He’s still got time to say enough is enough: every Canadian deserves high-speed, affordable service, with plenty of choices of providers and plans.
The path to getting there starts with immediately:
- Setting aggressive and specific targets for the CRTC on competition and affordability.
- Explicitly directing the CRTC to revisit and recalculate our Internet wholesale rates — both for wired Internet AND the gold standard of connectivity, fibre.
- Welcoming the full MVNO service that has brought meaningful mobile competition to many other countries
- Aggressively updating our competition laws to ensure our Competition Bureau can take action against quasi-monopolies and demonstrated monopoly profits, in our telecom sector and elsewhere.
Actions, not words, will rein in Big Telecom and give Canadians the fair and affordable telecom prices we need and deserve. Email Minister Champagne NOW: Stop the rapid extinction of Internet competition, choice, and affordability in Canada!