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Telus VP Ted Woodhead advocates for higher wireless fees

Dawn Walton
Dashboard

Canadians, who often gripe about the high cost of their cell phone plans, should actually be paying more for their mobile habit, according to an executive with wireless giant, Telus Corp.

The provocative notion comes in a recent blog post by Ted Woodhead, the company’s senior vice-president of federal government and regulatory affairs, who challenges the findings of a recent Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development report – and the subsequent analysis of well-respected Canadian technology analyst, Michael Geist.

The OECD report and the professor confirm what Canadians have believed for years – wireless pricing here is among the highest in the world.

Telus, which is set to add a $400-million, 750,000-square-foot, 58-storey glittering high-rise to the Calgary skyline by 2017, doesn’t agree.

“When you consider our enormous investment, challenging geography, sparse population and outstanding networks Canada really SHOULD be the most expensive country for wireless service in the OECD, but we’re not,” wrote Mr. Woodhead, using Owen Meany-style capitalization for emphasis. “That’s a great success story we should be celebrating.”

He argued that the report actually shows that Canadians pay about the same as folks in other developed nations, and that top-notch technology and infrastructure here came about only because of the investment of the private sector.

“Don’t let the critics with a vested interest in a well-established, but ill-informed, position spin you on this one,” Mr. Woodhead continued. “Scratch the surface of their arguments and get to the facts.”

The target of his ire: a blog post by Mr. Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, and who is generally considered the country’s go-to guy on such topics.

“Canada ranks last in the OECD in wireless subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, second last in households with a mobile telephone, and 23rd (of 34) in wireless broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants,” Mr. Geist noted on Monday.

He posted again – and again this week - to respond to the Telus salvo.

“It is a testament to how out-of-touch Canada's incumbent wireless providers have become that they think Canadians should be celebrating the fact that we are not the single most expensive wireless country in the developed economy world,” Prof. Geist wrote.

Meanwhile, Mr. Woodhead continued to defend his position to consumers who posted comments to the Telus blog accusing the company of being “out of touch” and for having some serious “chutzpah” to question Mr. Geist.

Then, another Telus executive, Brent Johnston, vice-president of wireless solutions, turned to the company’s blog to question coverage of the OECD report by OpenMedia, and defend Canadian rates as comparable to other developed nations.

“In its latest blog OpenMedia selectively pulls out a very few data points from the 2013 OECD report on wireless pricing in member countries including Canada to prove its long-standing – and just plain wrong – storyline about Canada having high wireless pricing,” Mr. Johnston wrote.

The wireless industry is under tremendous pressure.

In response to consumer complaints, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission recently announced a new code of conduct for the wireless industry as of Dec. 2, 2013. The agency aims to cut “bill shock” by, among other things, capping extra data charges at $50 per month and international data roaming charges at $100 per month within one billing cycle.

At the same time, the industry umbrella group, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, has embarked on an advertising campaign to win the hearts of consumers.

It has bought newspaper ads to assert that wireless rates in Canada are typically lower than the U.S. It has also posted a commercial on YouTube (viewed by almost nobody) which shows various beauty shots of the country as well as consumers using their smart phones to take selfies under the tag line: “Canadians – Connected Like Never Before.”

Still, Mr. Geist remains mystified by the Telus response to a report that only caught the public interest after Telus issued a press release last week complete with glowing quotes from its CEO Darren Entwistle, but then changed its tune online to suggest the report had “limited” methodology.

“It is certainly interesting to see a company aggressively defend its talking points,” Mr. Geist said in an interview. “Though I don't think any amount of blog posts will convince people that they should be paying more for wireless and that our comparatively high pricing is a great success story worth celebrating.”

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