Mr. Speaker, no one in the House would be surprised to hear that cellphone service in Canada today is amongst the most expensive in the world. This should spur us into action. This is 2019 and we live in one of the world's major economies. Canada is a G7 country, and yet we are often a laughing stock.
Canadian consumers are paying as much as tens of times more for their cellphone plans than people in Europe or Asia, so they should at least have access to quality service. In some areas of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, such as Lamarche, which is located between Saint-Fulgence and Sainte-Rose-du-Nord, on Highway 172 heading towards Lac-Saint-Jean, you sometimes have to stop your car and hope that the call does not drop in the middle of your conversation.
Access to affordable cellular and high-speed Internet services has become a necessity these days, both at home and at work. It is an essential economic tool in a large region like Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.
Canadians deserve to have reliable telecommunications service, without having to pay $20, $30 or $40 more than in other OECD countries for a similar plan.
Consider this: a two-gigabyte data plan costs a Canadian consumer the same as unlimited data plans in several dozen other countries. Telecommunications lobbies have long argued that the prices are justified because of Canada's geography and its significant impact on the cost of maintenance, but that argument does not hold water. For example, Australia has even bigger geographic challenges than Canada and yet it is able to offer faster connectivity and more affordable plans than we get here at home.
It is high time for the Liberals to take action, vote in favour of the NDP motion and have the courage to stand up to the Canadian telecommunications giants to provide Canadians with affordable plans.
The way forward is clear. It is unacceptable that in 2019, several regions of a G7 country still do not have quality Internet and cellular connectivity at an affordable rate. This is even more unacceptable when we know that compared to many other countries, Canadian telecommunications companies generate obscene revenues for less service. Canadian providers pocket 23 times as much revenue per gigabyte as telecoms in Finland, and 70 times as much as those in India.
Naturally, this reality is putting off many businesses whose growth directly depends on affordable, high-quality national telecommunications services from investing in Canada. The upshot is that we are losing investors, who would rather focus on countries where wireless and high-speed Internet services are less expensive. This needs to stop.
The Liberals have nonchalantly released a report stating that there is nothing wrong with the rates, the Conservatives are shouting from the rooftops that we should trust market forces to take care of everything, but all the while, nothing is getting done.
To put an end to this farce, the NDP is moving a motion today to make our wireless and broadband services more affordable and more accessible.
Our proposal contains five components. First, we are calling on the government to implement a price cap to lower bills, especially cellphone bills. In Ontario, Rogers' 85-gigabyte plan costs $415 a month. Honestly, Europeans could get a lifetime plan with virtually unlimited data for a tenth of the price. That is just ridiculous.
Second, we are calling for data caps for broadband Internet to be abolished and for companies to be mandated to create unlimited data plans at affordable rates. Together, these two steps, abolishing data caps and mandating companies to create unlimited data plans, would upend the current pricing structure by creating more affordable rates providing better value for consumers.
Every supplier would finally have an inexpensive base plan similar to what is offered in the OECD. That is not so much to ask.
Third, we are asking that a telecommunications consumers' bill of rights be created to eliminate certain unacceptable sales and service practices. This proposal is based on previous recommendations by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to regulate the industry.
Creating this bill of rights that clearly spells out the rights of consumers would help everyone make more informed purchases and above all would be an effective means of combatting certain scandalous sales and service practices. Agreements between operators to increase prices, arbitrary price increases and one-off discounts are a thing of the past.
Fourth, the spectrum auction system is in dire need of an overhaul to ensure that ordinary Canadians benefit fully from revenues. At present, new spectrum licences are auctioned from time to time by the Canadian government. The 600-megahertz band, for example, is prized by operators for its ability to penetrate concrete buildings in urban areas.
The problem is that ordinary Canadians do not benefit from these auctions. In 2001, billions of dollars in licences were granted to telecommunications companies, which do very heavy lobbying. None of these auctions is designed to protect consumers, to lower prices or to increase investments to ensure that Canadians in rural and remote areas have access to affordable, quality services. This must change.
Fifth, we are calling on the CRTC to reverse its rural and remote broadband implementation policy in rural and remote areas. A decision made this fall slashed speeds by half of the speeds announced by the government in 2016 for rural and remote areas. This policy condemns these regions to years of substandard service. For years now, I have been sounding the alarm to protect competitiveness in my region of Saguenay. The region needs access to cell service and high-speed Internet, but nothing is being done to make these services more accessible or affordable.
Since 2015, I have been attending meeting after meeting with local elected officials in Lamarche and Labrecque to advance the cellphone file in that area. The Liberals have always turned a deaf ear. The mayor of Labrecque, Éric Simard, announced a few months ago that approximately half the residents of his municipality were still having connection problems. That is unacceptable.
The government needs to face facts. Its connectivity plan does not meet the needs of the people of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. There was nothing in the government's last budget to finally give rural and remote areas access to reliable and affordable telecommunications services. The government is giving even more money to rich corporations so that they can expand access to high-speed Internet, but the people of Saguenay know full well that the telecom giants will never do anything to meet the needs of rural areas. These companies would rather invest in urban areas, where they can turn a higher profit.
It is time that the Prime Minister stopped finding billions of dollars just to subsidize his private sector friends. It is time that the Prime Minister had the courage to stand up to the big telecom companies and rein them in. The people of Jonquière have been waiting for years for a program to build cell towers.
When will we be able to benefit from a cellular network designed for the 21st century?
This problem is not unique to my riding. A total of 63% of rural households across the country still do not have access to broadband high-speed Internet and 0% have access in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut, where over 70% of major roads and highways still do not have access to proper cellular service.