Manitoba Opposition wants province to oppose Bell-MTS deal

WINNIPEG – Manitoba New Democrats called on the Progressive Conservative government Tuesday to oppose the proposed takeover by Bell of Manitoba Telecom Services, or MTS.

NDP legislature member Jim Maloway said the loss of a regional cell phone and Internet service provider will reduce competition, cause prices to rise and potentially lead to corporate job losses.

“Consumers of this province want this government to oppose this sale,” Maloway said during question period.

“This government doesn’t care about the Manitoba consumer.”

Premier Brian Pallister said prices will probably rise if the sale goes though, but service will be expanded into current dead zones and speed and reliability will improve dramatically.

“I think we’re going to get improved services, and when you get improved services sometimes you pay a little more.”

Montreal-based BCE Inc. (TSX: BCE) announced earlier this month a friendly deal, valued at $3.9 billion, to have Bell buy MTS.

The deal requires approval from regulators, including the federal government and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. As part of the deal, Bell is promising to spend $1 billion on improvements over five years.

Bell officials have offered few details about the improvements, aside from three new cell towers announced last week along highway 75 south of Winnipeg. But generally, the company has said service will be expanded to cover areas that are now dead zones and broadband Internet service will be offered in more areas.

That promise has been welcomed by municipal officials in rural Manitoba, who have long complained that the lack of cell service in some communities is a serious hazard for emergency responders.

But the accompanying price hikes could be dramatic.

Reports, including one submitted to regulators in 2014 by MTS and other regional carriers, showed prices are much lower in provinces where Bell, Rogers and Telus face an additional competitor. Data plans of up to 1 GB per month cost less than $60 in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where MTS and SaskTel are part of the competitive mix. In other provinces, the same plan cost more than $80.

Pallister said faster, more reliable communications will benefit businesses and individuals.

“When a farmer is trying to sell a product or order a part and their cell phone cuts out on them, that costs them time and money. When somebody goes in the ditch and can’t get a tow truck to come to their car because their cell phone won’t work, there’s a danger there.”