Canadians already battling with higher costs across the board had better hope the federal Competition Bureau can derail the planned takeover of Shaw Communications by Rogers Communications. The alternative is almost certainly higher prices and a more fragile telecom system.
The Competition Bureau has asked the Federal Court of Appeal to set aside a decision by the Competition Tribunal dismissing the bureau’s case against Rogers’ $26-billion buyout of Shaw.
While the tribunal says the merger would not likely lead to higher prices, consumer groups think otherwise.
Groups such as OpenMedia argue Canada is doing little to protect citizens from corporate practices for mobile and internet services. The government has consistently scuttled attempts to lower internet rates, for instance, by caving into the large corporate interests. That’s what makes the proposed merger of Rogers and Shaw an important bellwether case, not just for competition but for maintaining alternative channels when it comes to connectivity. We’re too dependent on the technology to put our eggs in just a few baskets.
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Critics have been calling attention to business practices and government legislation that threaten to harm Canadian consumers, and the very internet infrastructure upon which we’re increasingly dependent.
Through multiple pieces of legislation and policy proposals, the Canadian government has been taking aim at Canada’s free and open internet that obliges by the principles of net neutrality, opponents argue.
While talking a good game at times, the feds have routinely acted against the public good in all facets of internet regulation. Effective regulation is needed if the technology is to live up to its historic image.
The internet has long been touted as a great equalizer, providing everyone with a voice on a global network.
That myth is an enduring part of the internet’s promise. By now we know – or should know – all of that is simply a nice hypothetical. The reality is much different. The power imbalance means dictators block access to communications and kill dissidents, that large corporate interests squeeze out the little guys and take control of the internet. They also buy off politicians and bureaucrats – nothing new there – to kill off any democratic regulatory leanings
In this country, high rates and lack of regulation on the likes of social media companies are the more pressing issues.
The public backlash that followed the Rogers outage last summer led to some lip service from Ottawa, but little in the way of action. If the Rogers-Shaw merger proceeds, the situation is likely to get much worse.
Already, the cost of basic wireless packages in this country are typically ranked among the world’s highest, consistently six or more times more per GB of data when compared to other OECD countries. The industry’s oligopolistic practices will not improve with the merger.
The history of the internet is full of attempts to keep it open, accessible and democratic. As it’s become more corporate, it’s become less of those things. From open societies, we migrate to gated communities.
Keeping the technology open to all users, particularly by limiting corporate ownership and manipulation, will do much more than governments throwing around tax dollars.
A survey last fall found 71 per cent of Canadians are angry about telecom bills specifically, the third highest of 13 cost-of-living pressures tested. Amidst rising interest rates, inflation, and other pressing financial challenges, an overwhelming majority of Canadians (82 per cent) see the lowering of telecom bills as being a responsibility of the Canadian government.
Reining in rapacious corporations, fostering more competition in supporting an open, accessible system should be priorities for Ottawa. A Competition Act victory would be a good start.