Executive Summary

Canada’s cell phone market is dysfunctional and in desperate need of an overhaul. Government policy has allowed three incumbent service providers—Bell, Telus, and Rogers—to control almost 94% of the cell phone market.1 Because the growth of alternative options is suppressed through unnecessary switching costs and other hindrances, the incumbents have little incentive to improve their service. As a result of this lack of choice, Canadians experience excessively high telecom costs, restrictive contracts, and disrespectful customer service, particularly as compared to users in other countries. Decision-makers can help create affordable, world-class telecom services by basing policies on the lived reality of Canadians.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and Industry Canada are the main bodies empowered to repair Canada’s broken cell phone market. Canada will need quick, bold action from both the CRTC and Industry Canada to create incentives for choice and affordability. In 2013, the CRTC held a hearing to consider the specific rules it would put in place as part of a national wireless Code of Conduct. At the same time, Industry Canada was beginning to implement its plans for the auction of public spectrum resources. Taken together, the Industry Canada and CRTC decision-making processes mark a valuable opportunity to focus on creating policies that will improve Canada’s broken cell phone market.

To facilitate citizen-centred policies, OpenMedia.ca undertook a study of Canadian experiences with cell phone service. In October of 2012, the group launched a community-powered project, reaching out to Canadians across the country through email, social media, and online ads, and drawing on input from digital policy experts. The goals of this study were to learn about the lived reality of Canadians regarding mobile Internet and phone services, to make citizen views and input clear to policy-makers, and to provide expertise on how to address these lived realities through smart, effective policy changes.

Footnotes

1. Winseck, D. (2012, April 7). “Ask the Wrong Questions and . . . : the CRTC’s Review of Wireless Competition” in Mediamorphis. Retrieved from http://dwmw.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/ask-the-wrong-questions-and-the-crtcs-review-of-wireless-competition/