rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Time for Big Telecom to face the facts

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

This week the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development confirmed what Canadians have been saying for years: that we pay some of the highest prices for some of the worst cell phone service in the industrialized world. The new data was released on Monday and supports many of the findings from OpenMedia.ca’s community-driven report, Time for an Upgrade. Big Telecom can’t refuse to listen any more; the reality is that Canada’s cell phone market is dominated by just three service providers, leaving customers with little choice but to accept high prices.

Canadians price-gouged by three year contracts

Until recently, one of the biggest problems with the Big Three was their use of restrictive three-year contracts. Big Telecom claims that Canadians dislike pay-as-you-go services, with the implication being that we therefore choose expensive contracts. But pay-as-you-go services require that the customer buy their phone outright, and buying a device upfront is not an affordable option for many.

As the CRTC Chair Commissioner Blais pointed out, the reality is that customers have no choice -- when your options are a rock or a slightly-less-hard-place, what are you going to do? That’s why the CRTC’s Wireless Code sided with Canadians and reined in three year contracts.

Canada’s size has nothing to do with its high cell phone prices

It is a popular myth that high prices are due to Canada’s size and population density. But as technology consultants The Seaboard Group argue, “Canada’s carriers do not actually provide coverage across 90% of the land mass” because most of our population is concentrated in a small number of cities. As wireless providers are only serving a small percentage of this geography, the total size of Canada has little bearing on service costs. Big Telecom’s own lobby group, the CWTA, has noted that Canada has just 13,000 wireless towers -- a small fraction of the 52,000 found in the U.K., which is only 1/40th our size.

To be sure, there are high start-up costs for independent providers associated with establishing networks and spectrum. That’s why in our report, Time for an Upgrade, we made recommendations to Industry Canada that would facilitate the creation of a healthier and more robust wireless system with more choice and fairer prices.

Blocking Telus’ takeover of Mobilicity, and laying out rules to make spectrum more available to independents, are important steps in the right direction -- but much more needs to be done.

Canadian carriers make more revenue off users than almost anywhere in the world

A great way to compare the cost of cell phones in Canada to the rest of the world is by looking at service provider revenue per user. As we’ve explained in the past, Canadian cell phone providers extract more revenue from cell phone users than anywhere else in the world.

While some would suggest this is because of our high usage of smartphones and data, award-winning journalist Peter Nowak has shown that other countries with data usage that’s as high or higher than Canada have lower revenue per user, which suggests that their data is cheaper.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that, until recently, many smartphones like the iPhone couldn’t be used with more affordable, independent carriers because new entrants didn’t have access to the right ‘spectrum’ -- forcing cell phone users to turn to the high-cost Big Three for their smartphone needs.

More choice and customer-friendly rules mean better prices

Service providers receive lower revenue from Quebec as compared to other provinces, highlighting the positive impact of more choice and fairer pricing on Quebec’s market. Over the last few years an increase in independent options has put pressure on the Big Three, resulting in the development of ‘Unlimited Quebec’ plans and lowered prices.

Since 2010, Quebec has also enjoyed different wireless rules from the rest of Canada, which limit service providers’ ability to price-gouge customers. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this has an impact on Big Telecom’s revenue.

While positive steps have been taken, there’s clearly more that needs to be done. Canadians have laid out a clear road map forward -- and it’s time for the government to open up our networks to new service providers. Over to you, Minister Moore.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.