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Canada Is Finally Doing Something to Bring Down Mobile Data Costs

Minister Navdeep Bains has directed the CRTC to reconsider its decision on MVNOs.

Jordan Pearson

Jordan Pearson

Flickr/Many Wonderful Artists

The pricey Canadian mobile market is a nightmare for consumers, and the government is finally doing something about it.

On Monday, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains directed the country's federal regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), to reconsider a recent decision that effectively blocked small service providers from using WiFi to deliver affordable cell service. Still, it's up to the CRTC whether it will reverse its previous decision.

"The prosperity of Canadians depends on their access to affordable Internet and wireless services," Bains said in a statement. "These services are no longer luxuries. They are basic tools for all Canadians regardless of where they live."

The US hosts literally hundreds of what are known as MVNOs, or Mobile Virtual Network Operators, like Google Fi. These companies use WiFi (and piggyback off of major providers' networks when WiFi is unavailable) to offer cheap mobile services. Canada, in contrast, has just about a dozen—mostly partnerships with grocery stores or oil companies.

One way to make Canada's mobile market more competitive might be to allow MVNOs. But earlier this year, the CRTC issued new rules that effectively blocked WiFi-based MVNOs. These rules state that MVNO providers must operate a primary, or "home," network of their own, as opposed to solely relying on Rogers or Bell.

Read More: Everyone Should Have High-Speed Internet Access, CRTC Rules

Canada's mobile market is notoriously pricey, largely due to the leverage that three major providers—Rogers, Bell, and Telus—exert over the competition and the government. While MVNOs weren't explicitly banned by the CRTC previous to 2017, the regulator refused to force the country's largest providers to open their networks to competition.

Despite Bains' urging, it's unclear, and perhaps even doubtful, that the CRTC will reverse its recent decision on MVNOs, given the regulator's past refusal to make network access mandatory and the newly introduced rules around MVNOs.

But with pressure from a federal Minister now in the mix, it might just be the case that Canadians will finally have some affordable cellular data options to choose from.

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