Canada’s telecom giants step up PR offensive over wireless rules

Canada’s telecom giants are stepping up their public relations battle to keep foreign competitors out of the country’s wireless industry.

Bell and Telus have released a self-serving poll showing 81 per cent of Canadians don’t want Ottawa to favour either foreign or domestic players in the upcoming wireless spectrum auction.

The Nanos Research survey also says if the government was to give an advantage to one side, 70 per cent of Canadians prefer it would be a Canadian company, versus a foreign player. The poll claims just 2 per cent would like a foreign-owned company to get the advantage.

It also said respondents felt Canadian companies would work harder to create and maintain jobs.

While the results are clearly in favour of Canada's major telecom companies, including Rogers, it shows how relentless they are in trying to persuade public opinion in their favour in the current fight with Ottawa.

The poll comes alongside a barrage of advertisements calling for fairness in the wireless market. The telecom companies are lobbying for the government to not create "loopholes" that would encourage foreign competition in the industry.

The telecom campaign hits Canadians in places they are most passionate: privacy and jobs. It asks whether they are ready to have a foreign company own the personal data held on mobile phones and highlights the estimated 280,000 jobs the industry supports across the country.

The companies are trying to prevent Ottawa from making room for companies such as Verizon, which has reportedly expressed interest in entering Canada's telecom industry. Bell, Telus and Rogers have also seen their share prices hit hard since The Globe and Mail first reported in late June that the U.S. telecom giant had tabled an initial $700-million offer for Wind Mobile Canada, which would give them a foothold in the country.

Meanwhile, Ottawa has launched a campaign of its own, promoting its position of allowing foreign players as being in the best interest of Canadian consumers. Federal Industry Minister James Moore is making speeches across the country this week, saying Ottawa wants to increase competition to help lower cell phone bills.

“These large companies have very high profits, the highest profits in the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development], at the same time Canadian consumers are paying some of the highest cellphone rates in the OECD. I think we can do better than that as a country,” Moore told CBC's Metro Morning radio program this week.

The Nanos survey claims that Canadians are more concerned with the government working on lowering gas prices (45 per cent), and post-secondary education costs (33 per cent) than cell phone bills (7 per cent).

It also says 2 out of 3 Canadians are satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the value they receive for wireless service. That is compared with 1 in 4 that say they are dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied, according to Nanos.

"Canadians have an instinctive sense of fairness and they see that giving such clear benefits to $120-billion US corporations to the direct disadvantage of Canadian companies just isn't right," Bell Canada CEO George Cope, said in a statement with the poll results this week.

"More than 80 per cent of Canadians see no need to give advantages to any company, foreign or Canadian. We agree - Bell has always said we're ready and able to compete on a level playing field. Like millions of Canadians and the growing range of organizations that represent them, we call on the federal government to close the wireless loopholes and support fair competition in Canada."

The poll was conducted between August 12 to 19 and include about 2,000 Canadians.

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