An increase in cellphone rates is worth it if it means better service for Manitobans, Premier Brian Pallister says.

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An increase in cellphone rates is worth it if it means better service for Manitobans, Premier Brian Pallister says.

The proposed purchase of Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. by BCE Inc. was the topic du jour during Tuesday's question period, as the Opposition NDP continued to accuse Pallister of supporting a deal that will lead to increased rates for Manitobans.

"I think it (a rate increase) is probable because I think we are going to get improved services and when you get improved services sometimes you pay a little more," Pallister said after question period. "Where I grew up, we got TV and we got two stations, it was cheap. It is not so cheap now but we have better service."

Montreal-based BCE Inc. announced earlier this month a friendly deal, valued at $3.9 billion, to buy MTS. As part of the deal, Bell promised to spend $1 billion on improvements over five years.

Interim NDP leader Flor Marcelino accused Pallister of being a "public relations representative" for Bell after he appeared at a news conference Friday with representatives from Bell and MTS, touting the deal.

"Last week we were treated to the bizarre spectacle of the premier putting aside his official responsibilities to become a public relations representative for Bell Canada," she said, before demanding that he answer yes or no as to whether this sale will lead to an increase in rates.

The Opposition urged the government to lobby against the sale and go to regulators -- including the federal government and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission -- to make their concerns known.

"This bad deal is not done, it can still be stopped," said Tyndall Park NDP MLA Ted Marcelino, urging Pallister to tell the Competition Bureau it's a bad deal.

However, Pallister was steadfast in his approval of the multibillion-dollar deal, telling reporters he is optimistic about Bell's commitment to invest in the province, calling it "good news."

"Better service, better Internet speed, these are advantages that accrue to us as a result of the change of ownership structure and I think it is a good thing for Manitobans," Pallister said.

"It has been a longstanding issue for Manitobans for many years, in certain parts of the province that their Internet and phone reliability haven't been as much as they liked."

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca