Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Timmins—James Bay.
I am so pleased to rise today to speak to this very important NDP opposition day motion that talks about cellphone and Internet accessibility and affordability.
I represent the beautiful rural riding of Essex. By far, this is one of our main issues. There are many places throughout rural ridings that simply do not have any type of service, and if they do, it is substandard at best. Therefore, I want to thank my friend and colleague, the member for Windsor West, for all of his work on this critical issue. I want to commend him. He has a fabulous way of understanding what matters to not just his constituents but all Canadians and working hard to improve those areas. He is a fantastic MP, because he constantly focuses on these pocketbook issues of affordability that make a real difference to his constituents and all Canadians. I want to thank him for that. It also adds to his body of work on a digital bill of rights, which I know he is passionate about.
People in our region of Windsor-Essex are extremely appreciative of the work we have been doing to bring this issue to light. Therefore, at the end of this Parliament, I am very pleased that we are rising to talk about an important issue for Canadians.
In ridings like Essex, being connected to a cellphone and high-speed Internet is not a luxury; it is an essential service. Farmers, seniors, small businesses, vintners, tourist-based industries and students all rely on connectivity. Every aspect of our lives relies on this. In today's connected world, having access to cellphone and high-speed Internet is essential to the lives of people, whether with respect to work, home or life in between.
Many Canadians get their cellphone bill at the end of the month and are afraid to open it. They pause before they open it, because they are wondering what is going to be inside. They do not know what the total will be. Did they go over their usage? Did their spouse or another family member go over the limit? It is very hard to budget for a bill that is constantly changing every month. Trying to understand and interpret what is in the bill is difficult. Then, if something is wrong, they pick up the phone and have to spend hours and hours with these big telecom companies trying to get to the bottom of what exactly has happened. That is a reality for a lot of Canadians. They get that bill, open that bill and are truly afraid of what they are going to see. All of us have been in this position where we wonder what the charges are that are being added to our bill. It is not just that the basic packages are completely unaffordable. It is the unknown of what we will see when we open those cellphone and Internet bills.
Then there is a flip side. I am sure this will sound familiar to a lot of Canadians, because I hear it from people wherever I go. People are afraid to use their cellphones because they are not sure what they are covered for and they are afraid they will go over their data limit. People literally are not using their cellphones outside of an extreme situation because they know they will be dinged for doing that. It has created this whole other culture of people trying to interpret and understand something that, quite frankly, is not easy to understand. People are conditioned to seek out free Wi-Fi to limit their usage of their data because they are afraid of hitting that amount and going over on their bill.
There should be a study done in the House on the behaviours people have adopted because they are afraid of what their bill might be at the end of the month, as it really is changing the behaviour of people. Even with full-speed data there is a cap. When people hit that cap, their data is slowed down for the rest of the billing period. People are essentially being punished because they have reached their cap, and now their access to that service is slowed down. In rural communities like mine, this is a very serious safety issue. There are many people who are travelling on country roads. If they are suddenly unable to access things at the speed they need to, how fair is that for people? How safe is that?
If people want to know how much they are being ripped off by big telecom companies, which the Liberals and Conservatives are both defending here today, they should pick up the phone and call Bell, Telus, Rogers, or any one of the service providers, and say they are leaving. If they say they are leaving, the price will drop faster than they have ever seen. All of a sudden, the company is coming out with offers to take money off their bill. If people do not take advantage of that during the phone call, they will get emails and more phone calls afterward, because the company will go after them.
Essentially, there are already tiers of people paying different prices in Canada, because if people can spend the time to pick up the phone and call and complain, companies are quick to drop the price. There are lower prices that are accessible for some Canadians but not all Canadians. That is completely unfair.
We have these discrepancies that exist in the pricing because companies are all desperate to keep customers. They are making an incredible profit on the backs of Canadians. They make the highest profit margin on gigabytes in the world. No wonder they are charging us the most money that they possibly can.
Everyone knows we are paying the highest prices for mobile wireless and broadband services in the developed world. It is time to fix that. We could ask any Canadian right now on Wellington Street or in my community of Essex, “Do you think we are paying a fair rate for services and broadband?” No one believes we are paying a fair rate. Everyone knows we have the highest costs. Why is this? We have been conditioned to accept it. Why are Liberals and Conservatives happy to accept this? I cannot quite get my head around it.
I want to say one other thing about the telecom companies. Last year, Bell had an offer if people called between certain periods of time and stayed on the phone for hours on end. I know about that because I did it. At first people did not think it was real, but Bell said they would get a cheaper plan, but only if they called during a certain window of time and only if they kept their current phone. It is not that the big telecom companies cannot reduce their profit and still make a profit; it is simply that they refuse to do it or will only do it for some Canadians some of the time. That is not acceptable.
My riding of Essex is a rural one and like most of Canada the access and affordability just do not exist; they are just not there. At times in my neighbourhood, people have to stand in a certain place in their house to be able to speak on their cellphone. If they need cellphone access for their business, or a student or a senior needs cellphone access, they simply do not have it and they have to manoeuver within their homes.
It reminds me of back in the day when people would put tinfoil on the rabbit ears of televisions to get a channel. That is the reality of what rural communities face, and that is only if we can get service. Many pockets in my communities cannot get cell service. People know that their cellphone service will drop between one concession road and another because no one has service within that area.
Farmers are extremely high tech and need to know that every acre is covered. They are sending out drones and doing incredible things with technology on farms, but they do not have the access they need. That is outrageous. Liberals want them to wait 10 years for a plan that maybe will work. That just is not acceptable. We need service and it is becoming essential.
Many Canadians are asking how we have become this country with the highest costs. The Liberals and Conservatives have certainly heard this argument today and say that we can rely on the market and competition. They say not to worry, that the corporations will take care of it and somehow competition will bring the prices down. That has not happened. There is no evidence of that whatsoever.
If we bring in new entrants, but do not have robust consumer protection, price ceilings, essential service mandates and market oversight, measures which are not being implemented by the way, we simply are not getting competitive rates. When we leave it up to the corporations to give us fair rates, we end up exactly where we are. That means Canadian consumers are being forced to pay more than $20 more than the average monthly prices in other OECD countries.
Liberals and Conservatives once again want to leave it up to the corporations to lower their prices: “Let us not interfere in the market.” They think that somehow these corporations, out of the kindness of their hearts, are going to take less money in profits and lower costs for Canadians. Who believes that? Who sees that happening? People in Essex certainly do not see that as part of their reality.
This is about having the courage to stand up to rich telecom companies to protect our wallets and improve the services we rely on. The NDP appears to be the only party willing to do just that on behalf of Canadians.
I am curious to see how Liberals and Conservatives will vote. To be quite honest, I do not know how they can vote against the affordability and accessibility of wireless and broadband Internet in our country. It would shock a lot of Canadians if they voted against this.
In countries like Australia, people are sometimes paying two times less than Canadians do for the same plan. While Canadian telecoms make the most revenue per wireless gigabyte in the world, Canadians are paying the highest prices.
On behalf of Canadians, New Democrats are saying enough is enough.