Cell Phone Cost Calculator Program Scrapped After Lobbying From Telecom Giants

by Jordan Richardson on February 28, 2012

Back in 2009, a cell phone cost calculator was touted by Industry Canada as an “important consumer education tool.” The calculator was defended by Industry Canada as being accurate and would present consumers with an unbiased way to compare the various cell phone plans out there to determine which one best met their needs.

The plan was put in play in 2007 by then-Industry Minister Maxime Bernier. The government spend $1.4 million on the project over three years in development.

Despite Industry Canada’s claims to the program’s accuracy, Tony Clement, the Industry Minister after Bernier, scrapped it in 2009.

Why does this matter? Internal departmental records released to Postmedia reveal that Clement’s decision came after direct lobbying from the likes of Rogers Communications, Telus and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association. Clement defended the decision to shut down the calculator by stating that it was “unfair” in that it didn’t include bundled services mainly offered by, yes, the big telecommunications providers.

But the Public Interest Advocacy Centre stated that the calculator worked perfectly and Industry Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs also was supportive of the program. John Lawford, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, was one of the testers of the program. According to him, “it worked fantastically. It was just like doing comparison shopping on the Internet where you can plug in what you’re looking for and it compares everything and brings it up in a list.”

The power of lobbying in Canada’s telecommunications structure cannot be understated and this story effectively illustrates how things can change when the right amount of pressure is applied by the right corporate powers.

In the context of the upcoming spectrum auction, this story could provide haunting prescience as to how things could theoretically unfold. While there is certainly no evidence to suggest that the large telecommunications companies have lobbied to tilt the playing field when the “beach front property” spectrum comes into focus, there’s also some troubling discussion that suggests the government is not considering set-asides. A cap on the auction, a plan preferred by some of the major telecom players, is said to be heavily favoured by Industry Canada. A push from some powerful lobbyists could all but ensure set-asides are, well, set aside.

This story, and the potential politicking behind the upcoming spectrum auction, essentially reveals why Canada’s telecommunications structure is in the shape it’s in. The oligopoly has enjoyed government protection because the big players have the cash to impact policy and push aside potential legislation that doesn’t benefit them.

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Written by: Jordan Richardson. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSSTwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

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