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A sea of change for Canada's telecom market?

Telecom tower. Photo: jbdodane/Flickr

Last week the federal government and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) made two exciting announcements for internet and cellphone users in Canada, signalling major progress on issues the OpenMedia community has been working on for years.

On Tuesday, the federal government introduced a new policy direction for the CRTC, whose main focus is to "promote competition, affordability, consumer interests and innovation." Until now, the CRTC has been relying on the 2006 policy direction set by the previous government, which called for a reliance on market forces and telco self-regulation -- something that has clearly not been serving consumers well, as we continue to pay some of the highest prices in the world for our internet services!

Moreover, the new policy direction asks the CRTC to "encourage all forms of competition," which could result in innovative new providers known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) finally entering the market. This is critical -- more choice in our cell phone market is our only means to challenge Big Telecom's oligopoly and lower our monthly bills.

After years of frustrating CRTC decisions that favour Big Telecom's interests, this move comes as a refreshing and major step towards shifting the playing field to ensure that people in Canada are put first and have access to more affordable internet and cellphone services.

OpenMedia has been asking for a new policy direction for the CRTC from the government for years. Most recently, we called for it in our submission to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Acts review, endorsed by almost 10,000 of our community members.

This is a big deal! But the work doesn't end here -- the policy direction is not yet finalized. And even when it is, we'll still need to hold the CRTC accountable at every step of the way to make sure it's making decisions in the public interest, truly meeting its expectations under the new policy direction.

But already, we're seeing the impacts of this strong signal from the government to the CRTC.

On Thursday, (only two days later!) the CRTC announced a review of Canada's mobile services, which we have been expecting since last year when the CRTC last rejected MVNOs. We knew the proceeding was coming -- but we did not realize just how much was on the table, and that innovative new providers like MVNOs are already on the table from the beginning.

As outlined by the CRTC, this proceeding will focus on three main areas:

  • Competition in the retail market;
  • The current wholesale mobile wireless service regulatory framework, with a focus on wholesale MVNO access; and
  • The future of mobile wireless services in Canada, with a focus on reducing barriers to infrastructure deployment.

The first round of this proceeding will be accepting submissions until May 15, 2019, leading up to a public hearing beginning on January 13, 2020. This proceeding is going to take some time, but you can guarantee OpenMedia will be there speaking up for more affordable connectivity throughout Canada, as we always do.

The OpenMedia community has the loudest voice in Canada pushing for the CRTC to open the market for MVNO providers, and after years of pressure the groundwork has finally been laid out. But there's a lot of work ahead of us to actually shape what this looks like in practice, and keep pushing for this to have the true impact on people's daily lives that we know is needed.

Last week's major announcements are a big win, and we want you to know that you played an important role in making this happen. Once again, we want to thank our incredible community for all your hard work, which has helped improve the prospects for the future of Canada's telecom market.

Stay tuned for how you can engage in the next part of the saga by signing up to our mailing list or following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Marie Aspiazu is a Digital Campaigner and Social Media Specialist for OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

Photo: jbdodane/Flickr

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