Election 2019: NDP leader Singh ‘open’ to allowing foreign telecom entrants in Canada

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh says his party is “open” to the idea of allowing outside telecom entrants to enter Canada to foster more competition.

“We should be open to that. There is a certain criteria we should follow and any decision to open up the market should be based on security and privacy interests,” Singh said to reporters during a recent press conference.

Singh didn’t note any concrete plans regarding what this would look like. It’s worth noting that Verizon tried entering the Canadian market in 2013 saying the company was just “dipping” its toe in the water. However, reports regarding the carrier making its way to Canada were “way overblown,” according to the carrier’s CEO at the time, Lowell McAdam.

The Big Three, Rogers, Bell and Telus have taken a strong stance against the possibility of a foreign telecom giant entering the Canadian market, emphasizing how detrimental it would be to let a foreign company control wireless spectrum. In the past the carriers have said this would have “massive consequences for Canadians” and their jobs.

At a press conference in downtown Toronto, Singh announced his plan to cut costs by almost $250 a year on cellphone and internet bills, a promise he vaguely announced back on June 10th.

The campaign for federal political leaders vying to become the next prime minister of Canada began on September 11th. The country will vote for a new leader on October 21st.

Part of Singh’s platform is to introduce a price cap on cellphone and internet bills, but he has yet to reveal an in-depth plan regarding what this would look like.

A price cap would consist of a certain amount carriers having to abide by and offer services.

Singh did note that the cap would be matched to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average rates. The OECD is an intergovernmental organization with 36 member countries that stimulate economic progress and world trade.

Singh has previously mentioned that a new price cap would be based on the average in the OECD as well as consultations.

He also added that a government under his leadership would use the CRTC to “not only ensure there is a price cap” but to also include a “mandatory affordable truly unlimited data plan.”

Recently, Rogers, Bell and Telus all released unlimited data plans. It is worth noting though that once users go over a specific data allotment, their network connection is throttled to lower speeds.

Singh wants to open markets to MVNOs

Singh also took a stab at incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying that the Liberals have “rewarded” Canada’s big telecom companies with $50 million CAD in subsidies and more than $700 million in contracts. He also indicated that Trudeau and his government met with telecom lobbyists 556 times.

“It’s the decisions that come as a result of [those meetings]. It is not just a meeting, it’s the results after. If they met with lobbyists and we have the lowest prices they are working to benefit Canadians, but it hasn’t been that way,” he said.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains recently issued a directive that states the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) must look into affordability and fairness when making all decisions.

Much of Singh’s intentions to lower internet and cellphone prices include bringing in smaller players, like Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO).

MVNOs sell mobile phone service by wholesale purchasing the use of another company’s existing infrastructure, then reselling service at generally lower rates. MVNOs are not a market force in Canada for wireless services due to the fact that the CRTC doesn’t compel carriers to sell network use to providers that don’t build their own infrastructure. There are hundreds of mobile MVNOs in operation in the U.S.

“Right now in Canada, the infrastructure that each cellphone company builds can not be used by competitors, we want to put in place [regulation], which is possible with the CRTC, which will allow competitors to use infrastructure,” Singh said.

Sugar Mobile at one point positioned itself as a Wi-Fi-first MVNO, but the CRTC deemed it was operating improperly.

In Canada right now MVNOs are not mandated, though the CRTC launched a review of the wireless market back in February to look into the matter. A hearing for that is set to take place on January 2020.