Put the telecoms under public ownership

Sometimes the collapse of key parts of a society’s infrastructure takes fully visible forms – an earthquake or a powerful hurricane can destroy a city’s buildings and bridges, or a massive rainstorm can flood highways and huge areas of farmland. In those cases, politicians who failed to invest in crisis mitigation measures are quick to blame “once in a century” natural disasters. 

In July, the collapse of a critical piece of Canada’s communications structure was less visible, but equally destructive. The Rogers outage left ten million people without cell phone service and internet access. The impacts were enormous, ranging from lost sales for the business sector, to the inability to make essential purchases, pay bills, call 911, or contact relatives and friends. In a very real sense, this was similar to the sudden disappearance of large chunks of the country’s road and rail systems. 

Of course, Rogers has apologized and promises to pay some compensation to affected customers. Public anger quickly forced the Trudeau government to launch a federal inquiry to investigate the outage. 

But the real question now is whether Canada will continue down the disastrous road of reduced competition in the telecoms industry. Just three companies — Bell, Telus, and Rogers — control the vast majority of telecommunications services, and now, we are facing the planned $26 billion Rogers-Shaw merger. Imagine the catastrophic results when (not “if”, don’t kid yourselves) the next breakdown hits such a corporate mega-giant! If that merger isn’t blocked, it will certainly lead to higher costs for consumers and even bigger profits for telecom shareholders. Canada is already one of the most expensive countries in the world for cell phone and internet access.

The Rogers outage makes it clear that allowing such a telecoms monopoly has the potential to devastate the Canadian economy on a much larger scale. Some of the “expert advice” on dealing with this problem is useless – “diversifying” your service providers increases costs, and keeping bundle of emergency cash at home is a 19th century concept.

We need a very different solution – publicly-owned, high-speed, reliable, inexpensive cell and internet service for everyone. This sector is far too important to remain in the private sector for the profits of corporations and shareholders. It’s time to make the telecommunications industry public property! 

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