The cyberworld, where many of us spend a great deal of our time — probably too much — got a little less unreasonable with a couple of decisions that came down last week.
First, we had a near miss with a 5 per cent tax on broadband Internet services. Liberal members of the House of Commons heritage committee proposed the tax in a long-awaited report intended to help the troubled media industry adapt to disruptive business challenges brought about by changing consumer habits and technological change.
There are 20 recommendations in the report, and some are worthy of serious consideration. But the broadband tax isn’t one of them. That 5 per cent would have immediately been passed by Internet service providers on to customers, some of whom have trouble affording broadband now, and many others — in the so-called middle class — who are struggling with increasing costs across the board. A tax like this is regressive, and too blunt an instrument to be used for the purposes intended. Frankly, the federal government ought to be making broadband more affordable to more Canadians, especially those living in or near the poverty line who often can’t afford the monthly fees.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quick to politely but firmly say the government isn’t going down that road. He was right to do so. And his government should give serious thought to some of the other ideas, which include forcing the CBC to eliminate digital ads, allowing media companies to deduct taxes on digital advertising on Canadian platforms and offering a five-year tax credit to compensate print outlets for a portion of their digital investments. But as for the broadband tax — let it rest in peace.
The second development is more tangible. The CRTC has ordered an end to the practice of cellular providers charging consumers to unlock cellphones. As of Dec. 1, you can ask your provider to unlock free of charge. Further, if you buy a new mobile device, the provider has to leave it unlocked.
The $50 typically charged to unlock isn’t a lot of money, but it’s one less monopolistic annoyance consumers have to swallow in their dealing with telecommunications companies. Obviously, the telecoms don’t like it. Considering they made nearly $38 million last year charging us to unlock our phones, that’s hardly surprising. And there’s little doubt they’ll just find other ways to replace that lost revenue. Still, this decision offers a little more flexibility and a little less annoyance, and for that it deserves modest applause.
The fact is Canadians continue to pay some of the highest wireless service rates in the G7. Telecom defenders cite distance, geography and high quality as justifications, but that rings hollow. The CRTC has more work to do to change this vexing reality.