That, given telecommunication services in Canada cost more than most other countries in the world, leaving far too many Canadians with unaffordable, inadequate or no service at all, the House call on the government to implement measures that will make those services more affordable, including:
(a) a price cap to ensure every Canadian saves money on their bill;
(b) abolishing data caps for broadband Internet and mandating that companies create unlimited data plans at affordable rates for wireless services;
(c) putting an end to egregious and outrageous sales and services practices through a Telecom Consumers’ Bill of Rights;
(d) revisiting the structure of the spectrum auction to make sure everyday Canadians benefit most from the revenue, rather than repeating the failures of previous Liberal and Conservative governments, which squandered almost $20 billion from previous auctions; and
(e) directing the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to reverse their rural and remote broadband implementation policy, which condemns these areas, including many Indigenous communities, to years of substandard broadband and wireless services.
He said: Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech, I want to let you know that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the fabulous member for .
I want to praise the work of the member of Parliament for . He has been dogged and determined in bringing fairness to the telecom charges people are paying across the country. He does an extraordinary job. He will be speaking in the House a bit later on today. Right now, he is in a press conference, ensuring that journalists across the length and breadth of the country are familiar with the NDP's five-point plan to not only save Canadians money, but also expand telecom coverage right across the country so broadband and cellular services are made available in remote areas where they are not available now.
What does the five-point NDP plan mean and what does it mean if Parliament adopts it? It could mean a savings of up to $600 a year for a Canadian. I want to go into that in some detail, because Canadians are struggling to make ends meet.
As members are aware, half of Canadians are $200 away from insolvency in any one month. Over the past few decades, we have seen more inequality and a greater struggle for average Canadian families to make ends meet. It should be a source of shame for us that the average Canadian family now has the worst family debt load in any country in the industrialized world. That means Canadians have been struggling to make ends meet and for decades, the federal government has done very little to assist them with that. We often find that lobbyists, such as the big Internet companies from the United States, which do not even pay taxes in Canada, have had an influence. The lobbyists for the telecom companies have also made a difference. Therefore, it is common sense, not rocket science, to simply have the federal government take the measures needed to make a difference in the lives of Canadians.
As we know, in the developed world, Canadians pay some of the highest prices for mobile, wireless and broadband services. It costs them a lot more per month than people who live in other countries. That means price gouging is taking place. The federal government has basically allowed big telecom to gouge Canadians with impunity. That has to end. The NDP five-point plan would put measures in place to ensure that would not happen anymore.
Let us take one example. This has come out of many studies, which have shown consistently that the average price for Canadians who have a two gigabyte plan per month for data, and I am among them, as I am sure many Canadians are, is now somewhere in the neighbourhood of $75 to $76 a month. How does that compare with plans in other parts of the world? Obviously if Canadians are paying too much, then putting measures in place to ensure Canadians are not being gouged makes a great deal of sense.
Similar studies show the difference between what Canadians pay and what people in other parts of the industrialized world pay. If we were in Toronto, a monthly plan for two gigabytes of data would cost about $75.50 a month. What is the price for a two gigabyte plan in Paris? The same two gigabyte plan would cost $30.91. That is a substantive difference. The difference can basically be summed up as the big telecom companies in Canada are allowed to gouge Canadians with impunity. In other parts of the world, governments have taken action to restrict the amount of money that can be gouged from the consumer.
In London, the same gigabyte plan, which is $30 in Paris and $75 in Canada, is $26.56 on average, which is $50 less per month than in Canada. In Rome, for the same plan, two gigabytes per month, one would pay $24.70. Those are European examples.
We can look at a country that is similar to our country, such as Australia, which is a vast land and differing infrastructure. Many parts of Australia are remote, as are many parts of Canada. Australia has put in place measures to ensure it had a cellphone and Internet broadband infrastructure. Australia has found that those same prices are substantially less than what they are in Canada. I mentioned $24.70 and that is the price per month in Australia. Therefore, it is $50 less a month for a two-gigabyte plan in Australia, which faces the same infrastructure challenges, as Canada does, with its vast expanse. It has a better degree of remote broadband and cellphone access. It has put in place a better infrastructure, and the cost per month for the average Australian is $50 a month less than in Canada.
I talked about Italy, and I misspoke a moment ago. In Rome, if one is looking at broadband and wireless access, it would cost $21.11, which is a profound difference to Canada. Canadians are paying about $50 more for a two-gigabyte plan, and this is just one of many examples.
Consumers living in France, the United Kingdom, Italy or in the vast expanse of Australia are paying $50 a month less for a two-gigabyte plan than we are in Canada. There is no other way to explain this except rampant price gouging and governments refusing to protect consumers. That ends today with the NDP five-point plan.
The motion was read earlier, but it is important to reiterate what the NDP five-point plan is proposing.
First, we would put a price cap to ensure every Canadian saves money on their bill. This is a best practice that other countries have put in place and it has saved money for their consumers.
Second, we would abolish data caps for broadband Internet and mandate that companies create unlimited data plans at affordable rates for wireless services. This abolishing of the data cap has also made a substantive difference for consumers in other countries who are paying substantially less, $600 a year less. What could the Canadian population, the middle-class, working-class families, do with that $600 more they are paying compared to the Italian, French, English or Australian consumers. There is simply no way to legitimize or justify the price gouging that is taking place.
Third, we would put an end to egregious and outrageous sales and services practices through a telecom consumers’ bill of rights.
Fourth, we would revisit the structure of the spectrum auction to make sure everyday Canadians benefit.
Fifth, we would redirect the CRTC to stop its interpretation that is guaranteeing substandard broadband and wireless services for rural and remote communities.
This five-point plan makes sense to everybody but the big telecom lobbyists. It makes sense for Parliament to adopt it today. The result would be a $600 saving per year for the average Canadian family. It would make a difference.
Therefore, I urge all members to vote for the NDP five-point plan to reduce the cost of telecom and to expand services in the country.
Mr. Speaker, no one in the House would be surprised to hear that cellphone service in Canada today is amongst the most expensive in the world. This should spur us into action. This is 2019 and we live in one of the world's major economies. Canada is a G7 country, and yet we are often a laughing stock.
Canadian consumers are paying as much as tens of times more for their cellphone plans than people in Europe or Asia, so they should at least have access to quality service. In some areas of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, such as Lamarche, which is located between Saint-Fulgence and Sainte-Rose-du-Nord, on Highway 172 heading towards Lac-Saint-Jean, you sometimes have to stop your car and hope that the call does not drop in the middle of your conversation.
Access to affordable cellular and high-speed Internet services has become a necessity these days, both at home and at work. It is an essential economic tool in a large region like Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.
Canadians deserve to have reliable telecommunications service, without having to pay $20, $30 or $40 more than in other OECD countries for a similar plan.
Consider this: a two-gigabyte data plan costs a Canadian consumer the same as unlimited data plans in several dozen other countries. Telecommunications lobbies have long argued that the prices are justified because of Canada's geography and its significant impact on the cost of maintenance, but that argument does not hold water. For example, Australia has even bigger geographic challenges than Canada and yet it is able to offer faster connectivity and more affordable plans than we get here at home.
It is high time for the Liberals to take action, vote in favour of the NDP motion and have the courage to stand up to the Canadian telecommunications giants to provide Canadians with affordable plans.
The way forward is clear. It is unacceptable that in 2019, several regions of a G7 country still do not have quality Internet and cellular connectivity at an affordable rate. This is even more unacceptable when we know that compared to many other countries, Canadian telecommunications companies generate obscene revenues for less service. Canadian providers pocket 23 times as much revenue per gigabyte as telecoms in Finland, and 70 times as much as those in India.
Naturally, this reality is putting off many businesses whose growth directly depends on affordable, high-quality national telecommunications services from investing in Canada. The upshot is that we are losing investors, who would rather focus on countries where wireless and high-speed Internet services are less expensive. This needs to stop.
The Liberals have nonchalantly released a report stating that there is nothing wrong with the rates, the Conservatives are shouting from the rooftops that we should trust market forces to take care of everything, but all the while, nothing is getting done.
To put an end to this farce, the NDP is moving a motion today to make our wireless and broadband services more affordable and more accessible.
Our proposal contains five components. First, we are calling on the government to implement a price cap to lower bills, especially cellphone bills. In Ontario, Rogers' 85-gigabyte plan costs $415 a month. Honestly, Europeans could get a lifetime plan with virtually unlimited data for a tenth of the price. That is just ridiculous.
Second, we are calling for data caps for broadband Internet to be abolished and for companies to be mandated to create unlimited data plans at affordable rates. Together, these two steps, abolishing data caps and mandating companies to create unlimited data plans, would upend the current pricing structure by creating more affordable rates providing better value for consumers.
Every supplier would finally have an inexpensive base plan similar to what is offered in the OECD. That is not so much to ask.
Third, we are asking that a telecommunications consumers' bill of rights be created to eliminate certain unacceptable sales and service practices. This proposal is based on previous recommendations by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to regulate the industry.
Creating this bill of rights that clearly spells out the rights of consumers would help everyone make more informed purchases and above all would be an effective means of combatting certain scandalous sales and service practices. Agreements between operators to increase prices, arbitrary price increases and one-off discounts are a thing of the past.
Fourth, the spectrum auction system is in dire need of an overhaul to ensure that ordinary Canadians benefit fully from revenues. At present, new spectrum licences are auctioned from time to time by the Canadian government. The 600-megahertz band, for example, is prized by operators for its ability to penetrate concrete buildings in urban areas.
The problem is that ordinary Canadians do not benefit from these auctions. In 2001, billions of dollars in licences were granted to telecommunications companies, which do very heavy lobbying. None of these auctions is designed to protect consumers, to lower prices or to increase investments to ensure that Canadians in rural and remote areas have access to affordable, quality services. This must change.
Fifth, we are calling on the CRTC to reverse its rural and remote broadband implementation policy in rural and remote areas. A decision made this fall slashed speeds by half of the speeds announced by the government in 2016 for rural and remote areas. This policy condemns these regions to years of substandard service. For years now, I have been sounding the alarm to protect competitiveness in my region of Saguenay. The region needs access to cell service and high-speed Internet, but nothing is being done to make these services more accessible or affordable.
Since 2015, I have been attending meeting after meeting with local elected officials in Lamarche and Labrecque to advance the cellphone file in that area. The Liberals have always turned a deaf ear. The mayor of Labrecque, Éric Simard, announced a few months ago that approximately half the residents of his municipality were still having connection problems. That is unacceptable.
The government needs to face facts. Its connectivity plan does not meet the needs of the people of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. There was nothing in the government's last budget to finally give rural and remote areas access to reliable and affordable telecommunications services. The government is giving even more money to rich corporations so that they can expand access to high-speed Internet, but the people of Saguenay know full well that the telecom giants will never do anything to meet the needs of rural areas. These companies would rather invest in urban areas, where they can turn a higher profit.
It is time that the stopped finding billions of dollars just to subsidize his private sector friends. It is time that the Prime Minister had the courage to stand up to the big telecom companies and rein them in. The people of Jonquière have been waiting for years for a program to build cell towers.
When will we be able to benefit from a cellular network designed for the 21st century?
This problem is not unique to my riding. A total of 63% of rural households across the country still do not have access to broadband high-speed Internet and 0% have access in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut, where over 70% of major roads and highways still do not have access to proper cellular service.
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by saying that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from .
Today I have the pleasure of rising to highlight the excellent work our government has accomplished, no matter what the opposition may say, over the past four years to support Canada's telecommunications sector and Canadians, who work hard and rely on these Internet and mobile services every day. Telecommunications services are essential to all Canadians, regardless of where they are. That is why the government's telecommunications policy focuses on three objectives, namely quality, coverage and affordability.
Canadians need access to high-quality telecommunications services where they live and work in order to participate and thrive in the digital society and economy. Canada is already among the world's leaders when it comes to fast wireless networks. However, we understand that more can be done in terms of coverage to ensure that everyone can benefit.
Cell coverage is essential, and Canadians find service issues frustrating. The government has taken steps to expand wireless and broadband access in rural areas. I am from Gaspé, where 40 towns in the riding of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia will have access to high-speed Internet as of next year thanks to a $45-million investment. The people who live in those 40 towns, including Grosses-Roches, Matapédia, Carleton-sur-Mer and Sainte-Félicité, and all across my riding will have fibre optic service with download speeds of up to 100 megabytes. That is the kind of service we hope to offer. As of next year, 98% of the households in my riding will be connected. We have a plan, and that plan is working extremely well.
Obligations related to service delivery in rural areas like the ones I mentioned earlier must be integrated into spectrum licences to ensure that Canadians across the country have access to state-of-the-art wireless services.
This is not just it. Our government is also looking to the future. By 2023, experts expect as much as 10 connected devices for every person on earth. This is just the beginning. Wireless airwaves, known as spectrum, are essential to supporting increasing demand for data.
Our government is responding, especially by releasing new types of spectrum, as announced by my colleague the last week at the telecom summit. The goal is to ensure that the right spectrum is ready at the right time.
Releasing spectrum is part of the government's broader rural strategy, which also includes the connect to innovate program. The program will invest up to $500 million between now and 2021 to improve access to high-speed Internet in more than 900 rural and remote communities.
Also, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC, recently announced the details of its $750-million broadband fund. The CRTC's goal for the fund is to ensure that wireless coverage includes as many major roads as possible. Wireless projects will be chosen on the basis of geographic coverage and kilometres of road covered.
Supporting new technologies also requires private investment in network infrastructure. In 2016, Canadian telecommunications companies invested more than $11 billion in their networks. Wireless 4G networks, also known as LTE, are now available to 99% of Canadians.
The government understands the need for reliable and affordable high-speed Internet and mobile coverage. We also believe that Canadians in all regions should have affordable access to these services.
Our government is working hard to ensure that all Canadians can benefit from quality telecommunications services at the best possible price. The 2018 annual report shows that competition is starting to have a downward impact on the price of wireless and Internet services.
Competition has driven the price on mobile wireless service markets down by 16% since last year. It is no secret that despite the progress that has been made, prices remain high compared to other countries.
Our government also supports a competitive marketplace where consumers are treated fairly. This is why we put forward a policy direction that would require the CRTC to consider competition, affordability, consumer interests and innovation in all its communication decisions. We are giving clear direction to the CRTC, but Canadian consumers must be at the forefront of all future decisions. In doing so, we are ensuring that the communications policy will be made through a consumer-first lens to ensure Canadians have access to quality service at more affordable prices.
As I was saying, we have already accomplished a lot for Canadian telecommunications consumers. Prices are going down as coverage and speeds increase, which is excellent news.
We know that we need to do more to keep up with the rapid pace of change. However, only one party has demonstrated clear determination to take concrete action and that is our government. We are working for all Canadians.
At the beginning of my speech, I gave some tangible examples. Starting in 2017, we announced measures in the regions. If there is one region that is undoubtedly rural, it is the Gaspé Peninsula. In my riding, there are four RCMs and 58 towns and villages. As I was saying, 98% of homes will be connected to fibre optic broadband by next year. We started with the Avignon RCM, then we moved on to La Matapédia. Now it is La Mitis' turn and next it will be La Matanie's. Every village will be connected to high-speed Internet.
Those are concrete measures that our plan has delivered. We will continue our efforts with the investments we announced in budget 2019, for example. Money has been allocated for infrastructure. In terms of affordability, for example, money will be allocated to provide Internet services at $10 a month to families receiving the Canada child benefit. Our government is implementing concrete measures to ensure that all families will have access to quality services. That is important.
No region anywhere in Canada should be left behind. Canada is a large country. There are businesses and families in every part of it and all Canadians must be connected to quality services to ensure their full development and allow them to reach their full potential. Once again, our government has implemented a set of measures in pursuit of its specific commitment to ensure that these services are indeed made available.
I would like to close by saying that I am very proud of the work our government has done. We will continue our efforts because there is still more to be done. In fact, the policy recently put in place by the seeks to ensure that the customer receiving the service is at the centre of the CRTC's decisions in order to guarantee adequate and timely coverage at a good price.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise today to join in the debate about telecom service in Canada. I am very proud of the work our government has done on this file and what we have achieved.
Our government is focused on three elements of telecom services that matter most to middle-class families: quality, coverage and price. We are committed to promoting greater competition to give Canadians more choice and better prices. We have been focused on this since coming to office. Solid, reliable broadband and mobile Internet are vital to supporting Canada's vibrant and growing digital economy. Ensuring Canadians have access to the latest technologies is a fundamental part of our innovation and skills plan.
That is why our government is committed to a national target in which 95% of Canadian homes and businesses will have access to Internet speeds of at least 50/10 megabits per second by 2026 and 100% by 2030. This is an important commitment and one that is perfectly in line with the broadband Internet speed objectives set by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC, for Canadian households and businesses. To achieve this we are opening up new wireless airwaves also known as spectrum.
Spectrum is a critical resource for wireless communication and to meet these commitments. Whether it is for smart phones, fixed Internet, streaming videos, or GPS, current and next-generation services would not be possible without these airwaves. New spectrum will also be the backbone of the 5G revolution that we are on the verge of.
5G is expected to be a paradigm shift in how wireless services are delivered. It will support more data, more devices and faster speeds than previous generations. To roll this out effectively, our government will ensure the right spectrum and rules are in place at the right time to support the timely introduction of new and innovative technologies in Canada.
Our five-year spectrum release plan lays out our plan for making spectrum available in a timely manner. We are working to pave the way for 5G deployment in Canada to ensure that all Canadians have an opportunity to benefit from this new technology and participate fully in the digital economy. It will be important for providing Internet connectivity to Canadians in urban and rural areas. It is designed to provide both mobile and home Internet services.
For 5G to be delivered effectively, operators need a variety of what are called spectrum bands. In this case, low-band spectrum will help with coverage, mid-band for a combination of coverage and capacity and high-band for significant increase in capacity.
In early April, we completed the first of the auction in our plan. Through the 600 megahertz auction, regional competitors more than doubled their share of low-band spectrum.
The auction raised $3.47 billion, which, as has always been the practice, will be remitted to the consolidated revenue fund administered by the Receiver General for Canada. This money will be used to support priorities for Canadians.
It is important to remember that this revenue is collected over the life of the agreement with providers, which is often decades. In the case of the 600 megahertz auction, it is 20 years.
We are pleased that regional providers more than doubled their share of 600 megahertz spectrum following our auction in March. This will strengthen competition, which will drive prices down and improve coverage.
We are also planning to release more spectrum. In fact, we are planning three more spectrum auctions over the next three years making more spectrum available for mobile services than we have ever before.
Of course, we also understand the need to modernize our rules. That is why we launched a developmental licence playbook to help innovators get temporary access to spectrum which will allow them to test the functions of 5G.
Our government is taking action to empower current and future innovators and entrepreneurs by making it easier for individuals and businesses to test and research leading-edge spectrum devices.
In addition, the new developmental spectrum licence process supports the R and D of new technologies and services that will benefit all Canadians. This includes medical service companies that want to enable doctors to monitor their patients remotely. It will help tech firms working to equip municipalities with automated systems. It will allow research firms seeking to bring connected cars to market to better test their technologies, to improve safety and save lives on Canadian roads.
Officials at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada have noted explosive growth relating to requests to test in Canada and have received positive stakeholder feedback for our efforts to accommodate new systems. In the past two years, ISED has issued over 300 developmental licences that facilitate innovation and experimentation in the wireless industry.
Looking to the future, we are currently preparing decisions on two consultations aimed at improving access to spectrum. This includes backhaul licence fees that take into account future innovative and data intensive uses. The current fee structure, which is based on how much data one sends, can make it prohibitively expensive to move large amounts of data via wireless backhaul. A new fee structure would significantly reduce the cost of offering 5G services in remote locations or where fibre is not yet available.
My colleague, the , is consulting on a new set of smaller spectrum service areas known as tier 5. The intent of these consultations is to meet current and future wireless needs, encourage additional access to spectrum within rural areas and support new technologies and emerging use cases. This consultation responds to a specific concern we heard from small service providers that they face challenges in acquiring spectrum.
By creating smaller tiers, we will recognize the inherent differences in rural areas, make it easier for smaller service providers to acquire spectrum they need to operate and grow their businesses and ultimately lead to improved connectivity for rural Canadians. We are examining new, dynamic and innovative licensing approaches to respond to new service opportunities, including rural and remote connectivity.
We know that the demand for spectrum will continue to grow and we need to adapt in order to meet that demand. This means not just accelerating the pace at which we auction spectrum, but releasing it in innovative new ways. We are developing new innovative and advanced tools to get the most out of Canada's wireless airways. These tools will help us understand the spectrum environment so we can make more and better use of spectrum available in the future, particularly in rural and remote areas.
Our government has achieved a lot already on this important file. Prices are going down and speed and coverage are going up. However, we are committed to encouraging affordable telecom services to help bridge the digital divide, foster inclusivity and support an innovative economy. Our government recognizes that in some cases rural and remote communities can only be served by having access to spectrum, and we are working to ensure that spectrum resources are available for the various services that offer rural broadband connectivity.
Officials are already meeting with small wireless Internet service providers to better understand any challenges they have experienced in accessing spectrum. To date, they have heard back from over 100 small Internet service providers that have shared their experiences and ideas.
Delivering universal high-speed Internet to every Canadian in the quickest and most cost-effective way will require a coordinated effort with our partners in the private sector and across all levels of government.
To meet this commitment, budget 2019 proposed a coordinated plan. This includes a $1.7-billion top-up to the connect to innovate program, a new universal broadband fund and commitment to securing advanced low Earth orbit satellite capacity to serve the most rural and remote regions of Canada. Through this comprehensive and important work, we will deliver on our commitment to ensure every household and business in Canada has access to high-speed Internet by 2030.
Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to stand and represent the good people of Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola.
When I found out we were going to be debating telecommunications policy here today, I was very excited. Accessing services and the cost of those services are barriers that Canadians from coast to coast to coast experience every single day. When I speak to Canadians, cost of living is their number one concern. With the Liberal government's huge tax increases weighing them down, the added cost of a $100-a-month cellphone bill can be devastating. Canadians are struggling with affordability more now than ever and the Liberal government has just made it worse.
Yes, I was excited to talk about and debate real solutions and ideas about how we can support Canadians and make their lives more affordable. Then I read the NDP motion. This motion is typical New Democratic policy. It identifies a very real problem and then proposes terrible ideas to deal with it. This motion is full of ideas that are impractical at best and ruinous at worst.
Let us examine the motion and see how many of these proposals would only serve to hurt Canadians. My NDP colleague proposes a price cap for mobile phone bills. That would be a disastrous idea. Canadian mobile phone companies have to spend billions on new infrastructure every year to keep up with new technology and new data demands. They must spend hundreds of millions of dollars on spectrum so they can offer services at all, not to mention the immense cost of bringing Canada into the 5G future we all desire. One report estimated well over $20 billion. If the government were to implement a price cap on mobile services, it would make these investments impossible.
We all want lower prices. In committee last week, I questioned a representative from the telecommunication industry about how we can lower prices and ensure we see the investments we need. The only solution is more free market, not less. I know that New Democrats prefer big government, bureaucratic ideas that only work in university classrooms and, I suppose, probably in their caucus room, but they do not work in the real world. We need to see more competition in the marketplace, more new entrants and smaller regional companies; and the existing big mobile companies are going to have to accept that fact. I want to make myself extremely clear. I am not defending the status quo. Clearly, data prices are too high in Canada. However, a top-down big-government price cap would only make things worse in the long run.
Regarding the second point on data caps, I agree with the sentiment. Like many Canadians, I also see the mobile phone plans available around the world that offer unlimited data plans. Unlimited data plans should be an attainable option for Canadians. However, mandating that is not the right policy. Again, only free market solutions will ensure we have the services we all demand. Canada has among the fastest mobile networks in the world, a testament to the amount of investment we have seen in our country. However, data usage is a challenge. Modern services like video streaming put a huge drain on network resources, and if everyone is using these services, it can bog down the connection speed. This is why I find it annoying when mobile phone companies advertise steaming sports in high definition on their networks. That activity is not really practical across the board under current circumstances.
In a future world, with 5G and Internet of things and all of the innovations those will bring, it is unavoidable that data caps will have to go. However, we are not there yet and we have to make sure the accessibility of the network is open to all Canadians. Therefore, the logical question is, do I like data caps? Of course not; no one likes data caps, but forcing a big-government solution on the issue is not the right way to proceed.
Regarding the point on outrageous sales practices, let me start by saying that no one supports companies preying on people and using abusive practices. I question if an entire bill of rights is necessary when consumer protection rules already exist, but in principle, this is a point I believe there is widespread agreement on, and I would like to hear more from New Democrats as to exactly what that would entail.
Clearly, when the government put out its air passenger bill of rights, it was all marketing and, even now, on the implementation, when I talk to most Canadians about air travel, they want to know who is going to enforce it. They do not see the actual promise attached to the marketing. I would say, in this case, unless the NDP starts putting forward concrete proposals on how current legislation could be improved so that we deal with this, it is just marketing for a party that is quite low in the polls.
Sales practices that lie or misrepresent what a customer is agreeing to need to stop, and they need to stop now. The point in the motion that talks about spectrum is a great opportunity to speak about how the government is hurting rural Canadians with its 3,500 megahertz clawback. I asked the minister about this last week, and he did not deny that rural customers will lose service, and he even called it a “clawback” in this place. At least he gets points for being honest.
The 3,500 megahertz band is essential for ensuring Canadians can join the 5G future. We are not denying that at all. However, government policy that cuts off service to rural Canadians with no recourse is absolutely unacceptable.
The chair of the industry committee just spoke, and he talked about all the new technology that will help people in rural areas to access medical services. This policy eats away at that promise, because if those areas that have the least access are being clawed back spectrum that is necessary to run the service, these innovations, these abilities to offer medical services in rural areas, just will not happen.
Exactly how many people will be affected at this point remains unclear, but I asked a mobile fixed wireless company about the impacts during an industry committee meeting last week. The response it gave was that it would be significant.
The 3,500 megahertz band has been previously allocated to fix wireless for rural communities. Now that band is in major demand for 5G. The fact is that it is not the government's fault. International forces determine which bands should be used. However, what is the government's fault in this case is not addressing the fact that crucial rural infrastructure is now in conflict with extremely important new technologies.
Even if no one lost service from the clawback, and I think many will, repurposing the band to mobile without first finding an alternative for fixed rural wireless will stop rural providers from being able to acquire more spectrum to grow their business or to provide faster speeds.
We also need to be mindful that fixed wireless technology and the spectrum required to run it has allowed regional players to provide service to rural areas, which raises competition, which facilitates better prices.
This whole decision needs a rethink to ensure rural customers would not be left in the cold. However, over and over again, the Liberal government has proven it is not especially concerned with rural Canadians.
Looping back to the NDP suggestion within the motion, it is fundamentally flawed. Frankly, I am surprised that the NDP, a party that never saw a tax it did not like—well, except for when the B.C. NDP opposed the carbon tax—would oppose money flowing into general revenue. The NDP says that over $20 billion brought into government over the last number of years has been squandered. Do not get me wrong. The Liberal government has squandered much more than $20 billion. However, under a Conservative government, that revenue was used for health care, old age security, social transfers. I suppose the NDP does not think those things are important.
In principle, can spectrum auctions be done better? Absolutely; we can never stop working to make sure that government programs function better. Unfortunately with this motion, the NDP would clearly rather attack the previous Conservative government for funding health care and social services than find a workable solution.
Regarding rural broadband in general, this is a topic that every single Canadian needs to pay attention to, to work to find solutions. While the major mobile companies like to say that the vast majority of Canadians have good services, many do not and they are Canadians too.
I was very disappointed during a committee meeting last week when the member for lamented the fact that the first phase of the CRTC rural broadband funding was only open to the territories. The needs of our northern brothers and sisters are immense, and if service even exists in the remote north, the cost would make most Canadians' heads spin.
Making sure that remote northern communities get a first crack at broadband funding is a positive move, but clearly at least one government member disagrees. To give him the benefit of the doubt, he is probably just frustrated because the government's connect to innovate program is such a disaster. This program was supposed to bring broadband to rural communities. Unfortunately, it has largely been a communications exercise in trying to get Liberal members good press.
Based on an Order Paper question from my colleague from , we learned that less than 10% of the funding promised and announced has actually gone out the door. This is a government of stalled and delayed infrastructure funding, so it should not come as a surprise, but the government at least seems to pretend to care about rural broadband.
It is not just me saying that the Liberal government has problems. The Auditor General declared last year that the connect to innovate program was poorly designed and did not get good value for money. Maybe that finding is why the government refuses to fund the Auditor General now.
There has been announcement after announcement with press releases, but no funding. I have a list of projects with start dates in 2017 and 2018 on which literally zero dollars have been spent. For Câble-Axion and Projet Redondance Estrie in Brome–Missisquoi, Quebec, the amount of money pledged was $119,000, but the money given to date is zero. For CoopTel, Quebec, again, with just over half a million dollars, to this date zero dollars have been paid. We also have Duclos & Michaud Télécom, projet Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec: Again, from over $1 million, the amount actually provided to date is zero. I could go on and on with these things right across this great country. It is absolutely shocking to see that a program designed and launched with so much fanfare still has not found its feet.
Canadians expect that their MPs show up with a cheque that maybe two years later might be cashed. It seems to me that the Liberal plan is to break ground on these projects this summer as a pre-election, taxpayer-funded media blitz. I asked the minister responsible if any projects announced already would be re-announced this summer, and she refused to say no. Now, as we know with the Liberal government and the SNC-Lavalin scandal, a denial often means yes. Therefore, a refusal to answer probably definitely means yes.
Now we need to have a real plan to deliver broadband services to all Canadians, no matter where they live, a plan that works with every single level of government to identify where and when we can get cable in the ground and people connected. We also have to work with the existing telecommunications companies, not to do what this motion does and simply attack them.
Earlier, an NDP member said she was concerned that small companies are being played down by the larger companies and that more competition is needed. The price cap, again, affects all companies, including small or regional players, and they have the least access to capital and the smallest footprint in terms of already existing infrastructure. Therefore, the New Democrats really need to figure out what they want to do and the mechanism they want to do it by.
Do not get me wrong, the big three are not innocent. Canadian mobile companies receive among the highest revenue per customer in the world, while claiming poverty. Over the last number of days, I have seen several things from various telecommunications companies that make it seem to Canadians like they do not take affordability seriously. The other day in a panel at an industry conference, one representative said that there is no price challenge because most Canadians have phones. This is a totally absurd statement and extremely unhelpful when we need everyone to work together. Just because most Canadians have a place to live, that does not mean there is no housing affordability crisis in much of the country.
Another statement that struck me as incredible was that Canadians cannot expect price drops because their demands on data are increasing. Now, taking it to the extreme, are we then to expect a $1,000 basic data bill when 5G rolls around? Prices have to come down, not data prices relative to what data cost 10 years ago, but real prices in real terms. The sector must take that seriously. Canadians are not an endless piggy bank. Despite all that, and despite how good it can feel to criticize the telecommunications sector, that would be absolutely zero towards connecting Canadians and lowering their bills. It is perhaps good politics, but bad policy.
This is a major challenge for everyone, and everyone must work together to get this done.
The motion contains ideas that would do nothing to address the structural problems in Canada, help rural and remote residents get connected, or ensure adequate competition.
In the NDP world, where the motion would be law, companies would never be able to build the capital needed to invest in facilities to connect more Canadians. There would never be 5G, or there would be 5G but it would happen in other places. We would see a continued flight of talent and capital to other regions. Young, aspiring creators and programmers, the people who want to create new systems and innovations, would just go to the places that allow them. Again, the NDP is putting a cap on all these plans.
The answer is not big government and less freedom. More economic freedom is what brings prosperity. More freedom in this space to adopt new technologies and push the envelope would allow Canadian innovators to stay in Canada, participate in our economy and help Canadians lead the field when it comes to the adoption of new technologies, particularly regarding the Internet of things.
We need more competition in that sector, not regulations that ensure no company will ever want to compete. We also need new investment, innovation and price caps.
We need only look to the 1970s line “Zap, you're frozen.” It is very easy for government to dictate a price. However, it is very difficult for those operating in the market to then be able to invest properly and make capital plans. It would run from small operators all the way up to the large ones.
I have never faulted NDP members for having their heart in the right place. They clearly have identified a problem. However, their solutions, I have to say, border on the absurd.
We have a New Democratic Party that thinks with its heart and a who wants to grow the economy from the heart out. Conservatives will use their heads to find good policy that ensures all Canadians can live a prosperous and successful life.
Canadians are drowning under the weight of the Liberal government's affordability crisis. A future Conservative government would ensure that people have more money in their pockets and more market choice, because that is what brings prices and costs down for everyone.
Again, it is an honour to rise on behalf of the good people of Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola. I hope I have added some thought to the debate. I certainly appreciate that all of us come here with our strong ideas on how things should be. I know I have mine, and I am prepared to defend them. However, as we move forward, let us really focus on trying to find practical solutions.
Canadians do not care what is in our minds. They just want to be able to pay their bills and see their kids go to school, get good access to the latest health care, utilize technologies and be able to stay in Canada. Those are the things we should be focused on in our telecom policy, and a future Conservative government would ensure that Canadians can get ahead and will not simply tread water.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to this important issue today. I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
I want to take this opportunity to thank the member for , who continues to fight for affordability in the key issue of connectivity. That is really important work. As the dean of our caucus, his leadership and his continued patience with those of us who are new and still learning has been absolutely tremendous. I want to acknowledge him for that.
I represent North Island—Powell River, which is a very rural and remote community. I have a lot of small islands in my riding, a lot of communities that are very hard to access with respect to cell connectivity. A lot of communities are challenged with Internet connection. In fact, several constituents in my riding still use dial-up. That is just the reality facing so many rural communities across the country.
In the last few weeks, I have stood in the House with numerous petitions that desperately ask for more connectivity for cell.
In November of last year, a young man named Duncan Moffat drove off a road between Campbell River and Sayward. He was trapped in his vehicle for seven full days. His cellphone was right beside him, but he could not make a call because there was no reception in that area. For seven days, he lived off the oranges and Gatorade, which he had in the front seat. Luckily he was found by a passing hunter, and he is still with us today.
What was most poignant for me as a mother was hearing the story of when he was found. His mother could not be contacted immediately because she was out in the rural areas, putting up signs alerting people to the fact that her son had gone missing. It was not until she drove into an area with cellphone reception that she was notified her son had been found. This is the reality of many rural and remote communities.
Affordability is a big issue in my riding. There are a lot of hard-working people in my riding and I am really grateful for their input. They connect with me all the time and talk about the challenges they face.
I heard a member earlier speaking about gas prices. Rural and remote communities, like the ones I represent, have some of the highest gas prices in British Columbia right now. Recently, I wrote to the minister to ask for a petroleum monitoring agency to be set up. We need to have more accountability to everyday Canadians about why the costs are so high, especially when at people in those communities have no other way to get to doctor appointments, to go to the hospital, to get to specialists, which in my riding are ferry rides away, hundreds of kilometres away in some cases.
Affordability is exactly what we are talking about. We are talking about the high cost to Canadians of cellular and Internet services. I think it is $20 a month more in this country, sometimes even higher, than other countries. Comparable countries have done similar work to what the NDP proposes today to really take this issue seriously.
I have seniors in my riding who are struggling from month to month to just meet their basic necessities We need to look at all the costs and ensure they are as low as they possibly can be.
The big telecom businesses in Canada are making almost 40% profit every year. They are not taking a portion of that and investing it into rural and remote communities. They are leaving that to small telecom businesses, which are working their butts off every day. I have talked to some of those businesses in my region. They have some great solutions, but they do not see anything happening to make it the next step.
Sixty-three per cent of rural Canadians do not have high-speed broadband. I think of a community in my riding, Gold River, that is doing a lot of active work. It had a mill closure many years ago. A year and a half ago it lost its grocery store. It does not have a bank. People live over an hour away from a larger community. People are really working hard in that community every day to build an economy. What they do not have is cell reception. It has people come out in droves because it is a beautiful place to go. Tourism and community services are very strong, it needs that to attract more people.
Highway 28 and Highway 19 in my riding are two of the most dangerous highways, with thousands of people driving them every day with no cell reception.
Cost matters, but so do these rural communities, which are working every day to make a difference in the lives of their communities. They want to build an economy, but they have been left behind by successive federal governments when the resource-based economy changed. They need to see some of these thing happen.
We need to ensure that rural and remote communities are a priority. We know Canada pays some of the highest costs in the world for cellphone usage. One of the measurements is for two gigabytes, $20 on average. When we see those high costs, I think of some of the people in my riding who have to make a decision whether to their pay rent or buy their medications. We recently heard that many people across the country were $200 away from financially falling apart.
It is motions like this that take concrete action, that take the next step. Companies are making 40% profit. We want to ensure that everyday Canadians stop being gouged by big corporations. When is the government going to take the side of hard-working, everyday Canadians? People are working their butts off and the least we can do is work our butts off on their behalf.
The government has multiple spectrum auctions. From 2001-19, the government has made over $17 billion in revenue from telecommunications companies. Where is that investment in small communities? How are we going to make those prices go down? Rural and remote communities are often forgotten.
When I was first elected, I started getting numerous phone calls from seniors who had been cut off their guaranteed income supplements. It resulted in Bill , which I have tabled in the House, to ensure they would not be cut off. Simple solutions sometimes make the best impact. The solution I proposed was to give seniors a one-year grace period. They receive the guaranteed income supplement and they have a one-year grace period to get their taxes done. Seniors have health challenges and family commitments that make it hard to get their taxes done on time. If we do not look after those who built our country, we fail them.
The bill also asked the CRA to reach out to them and find out why they were not getting their taxes done on time. That is important because some families are challenged because their loved ones have Alzheimer's and do not do what they should do. We need to support them. It would mean that no seniors would be cut off GIS if we gave them a year's grade period. Tens of thousands of seniors would not lose that small stipend that can make the difference between having a place to live or being evicted.
When I look at something as smart as this motion, it is time we seek practical solutions that make a difference, that we support hard-working Canadians over those giant corporations that are making significant profits. It is time to see them as a priority.
Mr. Speaker, I know that the session is getting long, but I want to acknowledge you, and more importantly, your staff. We share the same floor in the Valour Building, and I think it is appropriate to say how nice the people on your team are to everyone on the floor, including to my staff. That is something to note as the session winds down, because I appreciate that.
I am proud that the member for brought this motion forward. People should be concerned and upset about what is taking place with respect to mobile devices, because they are now an essential service. They are essential not only for emergencies but for the way people do business, connect to family, entertain and experience cultures and the world we have at our doorstep and beyond, as we are now connected globally with friends, family and other people.
What has happened over the last number of years is that we have squandered the opportunity as a country to make this a process we could use for innovation and investment. The reality is that the spectrum we have been selling is similar to our air, water and land. It is the people's asset. It is basically the ability to rent the space to send signals and data. That is something I do not think the Canadian public has come to realize. Previous governments, including the current government, have received over $20 billion in compensation. That should be acknowledged, because that is reflected in the pricing, when we look at Rogers, Telus and Bell, to name a few that have gone to these spectrum auctions. It has been done differently in many other parts of the world. In fact, it has increased the prices Canadians pay.
Are people happy with the status quo? If the answer is yes, if they are happy with their cellphone prices, the data policies and their experience as customers, then the Liberals and Conservatives are the people to advocate for the status quo. The motion we have put forth, which I will get into in a few moments, offers ideas that would enhance accountability, price stability and innovation for this country.
We believe that the status quo need a shake up, because Canadians download the least among developed nations, yet we experience the highest costs. If usage starts to climb, our prices are going to skyrocket to double and triple the costs we have now if we keep the status quo, which the government and the Conservatives are advocating with their strategies. They have not worked. There have been success stories with respect to how we have rolled this out. However, the reality is that we cannot keep the status quo. Canada is falling behind, not only regarding individual pricing but in blocking innovation and jobs. Most important, we are not doing anything about it, other than essentially passing it on and hoping that something is going to fix itself, and it will not.
The motion we have crafted is in line with something I have also advocated for in the House in the past, which is Motion No. 175, regarding a digital bill of rights. The digital bill of rights would have a rules-based system for everything from net neutrality to how people are treated as customers. There would be a set of rules and principles in place so that companies and customers could evaluate what they were getting into.
It is fair to say that when we go to buy a cellphone or a mobile package now, we feel frustration similar to when we buy a car, insurance or a number of different products for which there are a litany of qualifications and excuses. It can be very complicated and undermine our experience and grow our frustration. That is no way to run an essential service.
In fact, to some degree, the data cap of $10 per month we are proposing would put us in line with the average for the OECD countries. Price caps have been in place for other types of things we have had in the past, such as electricity and phones, when we rolled out phone programs in the past. Price caps and those types of measures can come and go. We have a regulatory body that could do this right now, the CRTC, to bring stability and fairness to the market.
If those caps were put in place, they would be adjusted on a yearly basis, with input from the public, the provinces, industry and consumer groups. There would be a process in place to create a sense of stability. The review process would take place every year, as I mentioned, and we would look at the average pricing in the OECD countries, which is a fair and representative way to do it.
There are some interesting anomalies out there with regard to comparables. Australia has pricing that is 40% lower than in Canada, and it has better service and range. In India it is 70% lower. What is unique to the Canadian experience right now is that our average for downloading data is low compared to different countries. As we grow to 5G and go to more content that requires more downloading, it is going to raise the price under the status quo. I hope the other parties will come around on this, because it will be a recipe for failure in the future. It will block innovation and restrict investment in this country, because countries look at our infrastructure for wireless and broadband technology as a way of measuring whether they can grow and expand their markets.
I would also note that an important part of a solution is to have a basic plan. For example, there are individuals who do not want a phone. It is an essential service right now for emergencies and connecting with families. We are moving away from land lines. Even to find a job, someone needs a reliable phone plan. We marginalize people even more when there is no basic plan. Those trying to lift themselves up into the digital economy are prevented from doing so because of the policies in place.
Data caps should be abolished. CRTC representatives appeared at committee and said that they are not going to have data caps. Rural and remote communities, where 63% of Canadians do not have high-speed Internet, are going to have unlimited data, but the speed will be half of what it would be in urban centres. They will not have more to download; they will have more waiting for buffering. They will be able to download more but will wait longer, which is not efficient. That is important to note. The CRTC, and I was quite shocked that the government did not challenge this, has decided that there will be half the speed for rural and remote areas, with no plan for these communities to eventually catch up.
Not only is the speed not based on the future, it is based on half of what there is right now. The goal of the CRTC is 2030, but at the same time, there is not even any enforcement of that. We are talking about a basic, minimal experience.
There is a telecom bill of rights. I mentioned the digital bill of rights. The same principles apply. When people go from one carrier to the next, there should be some consistency.
When I presented these ideas in the past, they were seen as absurd and could not be done. The first was unlocking cellphones. We were told that in Canada, we could not do it. New Democrats fought to have that reversed, because it was being done in the rest of the world.
The second thing I championed was cellphones being portable, because people own their numbers. Right now, our signals are dropped from carrier to carrier. That should not happen, because the spectrum belongs to all of us, and in emergencies and in other matters, it is important that the carrier transition. It is the same thing with cellphones.
In conclusion, these are practical solutions based on propositions, not just opposition. It is something I learned from Jack Layton that is now supported by the member for .