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This article was published 15/6/2018 (1228 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
High prices for wireless service are keeping a significant number of low-income Canadians offline, according to a new report commissioned by Manitoba consumer and Indigenous groups.
The research is in response to a call for comments that the CRTC made after asking the big three national carriers to submit proposals outlining how they intend to ensure that more affordable data plans be made available to people across Canada.
The new report, prepared by Benjamin Klass and Dwayne Winseck for the Consumers’ Association of Canada (Manitoba) and the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, represented by the Public Interest Law Centre, proposes a substantially lower-cost version than what Bell, Rogers and Telus proposed. It argues that the telcos could still make money on data-only plans starting at $5 per month.
The report, entitled "Poor internet for poor people? Why Canada needs better and more affordable mobile services for everyone," argues that despite the claims often made that Canada is well served with high-speed high-quality wireless networks, it lags behind many other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in terms of the total rate of standard mobile broadband penetration.
It also shows that among the lowest-income group of Canadians, only 68.7 per cent subscribe to mobile services compared to an average of 87.9 per cent among the other groups.
Byron Williams, director of the Public Interest Law Centre, said, "In an earlier decision, the CRTC noted that mobile wireless facilities-based competition had been slow to develop and was limited in Canada. It is looking for interim relief in a place where the market had clearly failed to provide innovative and low cost data-only solutions."
In what Williams said is the most "wide-ranging and comprehensive and current look at the market," the authors have proposed a flex plan starting at $5 per month for 250 megabytes, rising gradually so that it eventually converges with current post-paid plan rates.
The report states, "The CRTC flex plan that we are proposing is an elegant solution to the problem that the Commission is seeking to address in this proceeding, namely that people who need to access smaller amounts of mobile data cannot afford to do so at current market rates."
Damon Johnston, president of the Aboriginal Council of Manitoba, is interested in this thought.
"Now that there is better data to more effectively determine what it would cost to make these services more accessible across the board to all Canadians," he said, "we can make a better judgment about the capacity of the telecommunication companies to be more fair and reasonable."
He said there is a lot of work left to do, but the proposals in this report are a good step toward "realizing the aspirations of citizens and consumers" regarding the promises of access to wireless networks across the country.
One of the authors of the report, Ben Klass — a Winnipegger who is working on a PhD in Ottawa — said there is nothing like their proposed CRTC flex plan currently on the market. The closest to it is a Sasktel offer of data-only plans beginning at $15 a month for one gigabyte of data.
He said using the CRTC’s own costing data, carriers proposed "low-cost" plans feature a markup of between 255 to 350 per cent.
Williams said rather than proposals for low-cost plans, "they actually provided high-cost, low data proposals."
In their proposals, the large telcos make the case that they are doing a good job serving the public and that the CRTC should continue to avoid mandating pricing policy.
But Williams said he has already made the argument that the CRTC has reserved the right to do so and should exercise it in this matter.
"We would argue strongly that they have the authority to mandate these types of plans," he said. "The telcos would disagree."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.