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Caught between Park Place and Boardwalk

Jody Vance: Wireless and telecom costs in Canada are the world’s highest – and competition might be…reduced?
That’s gonna cost you.

I scanned yesterday’s Speech From the Throne, looking through the 26 pages for followup on a longtime promise of relief for every Canadian on one single front:

Wireless and cellular service affordability.

Over these last 20 months, people around the globe have collectively learned the value and necessity of connectivity.

All of us told to go home, stay home, work from home and have our kids receive schooling from home. It was fine for those with the income to pay for all that entails; but for many others, it further broadened an already wide divide.

Wireless, cellular service, and even cable grew from a luxury into more of a necessity.

Kids went a full two years without traditional access to school. Others were left to go without, due to stressed and stretched family budgets.

Canada is famously the most expensive country in the world for cellular and wireless services. For this reason, even with so much going on, this week’s Middle is an ask for competition.

Back in March, Rogers Communications announced a deal had been struck to the tune of $26 billion to take over Calgary-based internet and wireless provider Shaw Communications Inc. This is anything but just another corporate transaction. It’s a move that, if completed, would instantly shift the Canadian telecom landscape.

The process of approval started Monday, as the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearings began. For now,  the subject matter right now will mostly stick to the handover of broadcasting, cable, internet and wireless assets. Once secured, that next massive domino will have repercussions that will likely hit our wallets.

While the world discusses breaking up big tech, like Meta (formerly Facebook) or Amazon, here in Canada we stare down the amalgamation of telecom and…hold hearings…that will likely lead to the approval of a move that could see the powerful big four trimmed to an even more powerful big three.

Not very inspiring, is it.

Pre-pandemic/wildfires/floods, these hearings would generate bigger headlines and sound more alarm bells. Experts and scholars are trying to be heard, warning that, depending how this unfolds, Canadians could end up paying even more.

Most federal parties made some sort of promise on telecom affordability when campaigning. So where is that action now? This is the opportune time to ensure protections are written into the approval process of Rogers buying Shaw.

Because more often than not, less competition directly leads to higher prices.

If this sale is approved, there should be activation and introduction of international competition. It’s a no-brainer to tie the two together.

Canadians deserve competitive wireless and cellular costs, and it should be a priority for our elected officials to make it so.

I’m hopeful the CRTC will show some teeth. Protectionism for these massive companies adds to rising affordability issues – just when it has never been more necessary to have affordable connectivity.

Families living paycheque to paycheque, on supports, in rural areas or on reserve: everyone should be connected in Canada without being gouged.

Let’s ensure this opportunity to build better doesn’t slip away. Either there is a price correction that makes connectivity affordable coast to coast, or erase the imaginary line at the US border blocking wireless and cell options.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.