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Critics question Liberals' falling cellphone price claims, budget promises

As the federal government promotes efforts to reduce Canadians' cellphone expenses, some are questioning the reality behind the claims of decreasing prices.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced criticism on social media when he asserted that cellphone plan costs had been halved since 2019, attributing this reduction in part to increased competition. However, many consumers expressed skepticism, stating that they hadn't experienced such significant reductions in their bills.

Trudeau's remarks coincided with the unveiling of a plan in last week's federal budget, which proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Act aimed at facilitating easier switching between internet and phone providers. The budget cited Statistics Canada data indicating a 50% decline in cellphone plan costs since December 2018.

Opinions among industry observers vary regarding the validity of this data. Some view it as evidence of heightened competition driving better deals for consumers, such as larger data packages and additional services. However, others argue that apparent savings might be misleading, as customers may be enticed to purchase more data than necessary, or discounts may be offset by bundled services.

Dwayne Winseck, a professor at Carleton University, highlighted the importance of considering metrics beyond simple price reductions. He pointed to an increase in the average revenue per user reported by cellphone companies, suggesting that while prices per gigabyte may be decreasing, overall spending is rising.

This sentiment was echoed by Michael Geist from the University of Ottawa, who emphasized that while certain deals may appear cheaper, Canadians are collectively spending more on wireless services than before. Concerns persist regarding high prices relative to other countries.

Critics also cast doubt on the effectiveness of proposed budget measures aimed at further reducing telecommunications costs. Despite promises to prohibit extra fees for switching carriers, some argue that existing protections, such as those outlined in the Wireless Code, already prevent such practices. According to telecommunications consultant Mark Goldberg, meaningful penalties for early contract termination have been absent since 2013.

A Department of Finance official acknowledged existing protections but suggested that proposed adjustments might complement or reinforce these measures. However, specific details regarding implementation and potential redundancies remain subject to further consultation and clarification from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

In conclusion, while the government highlights apparent progress in reducing cellphone expenses, skepticism persists among consumers and industry experts alike. As discussions continue regarding the efficacy of proposed measures, the debate surrounding Canadians' telecommunications costs shows no signs of abating.



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