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Politics

Conservatives agree to support NDP motion to study wireless plan hikes

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme RoyA BlackBerry Q10 smartphone is shown in Toronto, Tuesday, April 23, 2013. .
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme RoyA BlackBerry Q10 smartphone is shown in Toronto, Tuesday, April 23, 2013. . Graeme Roy / The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – The Conservatives say they will support an NDP motion to be introduced Wednesday to study the impacts of wireless plan price increases.

A spokesman for Industry Minister James Moore said the government will support Toronto NDP MP Peggy Nash’s motion, set to be introduced in industry committee, to study price increases from Canada’s three major wireless carriers and how they will affect consumers.

But Moore’s spokesman Jake Enwright criticized the NDP for coming out against this year’s budget when it was first introduced – because it includes a measure to cap domestic roaming fees.

“The NDP have been silent on wireless and digital policies since the summer,” said Enwright.

But the NDP has also criticized the Conservatives’ omnibus budget bills, because they contain some measures the party supports and others they don’t. Nash, her party’s industry critic, said the NDP has for years supported capping roaming rates.

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Nash also wants the committee to report its findings to the House of Commons by the end of April.

“We need to do a lot more to make wireless services more affordable for Canadians,” Nash said in an interview.

“The Conservatives have been buying ads and patting themselves on the back about wireless prices but this is a concrete example for consumers of their failure to create competition and better prices.”

Conservative MP Joyce Bateman, who sits on the committee, said she hasn’t seen the motion but she supports the idea.

But Bateman said it’s unrealistic to have a report completed by the end of the month, especially with a two-week break coming up over Easter.

“It sounds very interesting and absolutely congruent with the position of our government,” Bateman said. “I look forward to seeing it with interest.”

Nash cited increases that include a $5 base plan hike in most areas of the country by Rogers and Bell in March, and Telus in January, according to reports.

But a spokesman for Telus said that’s not exactly accurate.

While the company increased its unlimited nationwide talk and text plan rates by $5 in January, it recently decreased rates for the most popular data plans by $5 and added two new data plans, spokesman Shawn Hall wrote in an email.

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“Wireless is one of Canada’s most competitive industries, and that’s reflected in ongoing price competition,” Hall wrote.

Nash said the government’s recent wireless spectrum auction – which raked in a record $5.27 billion and saw a fourth player, Videotron, enter into the mix – has not helped consumers.

She said her party would like to see improved tower sharing, reduced roaming rates and more spectrum set aside for smaller carriers to increase competition.

“If we take a look at this latest price increase it’s going to be able to shed some light on the fact that what the Conservatives have been doing so far just isn’t working,” she said.

Nash said if the motion passes, it’s possible representatives from the three big telecom companies would appear at committee to testify.

A Rogers spokeswoman said the company would be happy to participate in a committee study. But Jennifer Kett said Rogers has not changed its prices on all plans and many have stayed the same.

“Like any business, we regularly adjust our prices and the services we offer,” Kett wrote in an email.

Text of Nash’s motion:

That the Standing Committee on Industry, science and technology undertake a study of recent wireless plan price increases by Canadian wireless carriers and their impact on the affordability of life for consumers and report its findings to the House by April 30, 2014.

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