Values Telus Brings to the Yukon

It’s old news that Telus has begun to provide mobile phone services in Whitehorse (so bear with me as I briefly rehash it here).

As of last Friday you can subscribe to Telus in Whitehorse. The company will sell you a new mobile number in the 867 area code, or move a number you already have to their service.

Right now you can only do that online or by calling their northern “hotline” at 1-866-359-6764.

Before Christmas, though, Telus will open a retail store in Whitehorse, where you’ll be able to try out phones before you buy them. I’ve been told that the store will offer a level of support and service that is unprecedented in the local market. (It won’t be hard to improve on what we currently have, however.)

In terms of actual telephone and data service from Telus, it’ll be virtually identical to what you get from Bell or Latitude. But that’s not surprising, since they all share the same technical infrastructure.

And it will surprise no one that the devices the companies want to sell you are all nearly identical.

Telus does have a very minor cost advantage, though. After evaluating plans from the two southern carriers I’ve found the new entrant’s pricing to be about 10% lower than Bell’s.

So the popular criticism of Canada’s telecommunications industry rings true even in the North: there’s no real competition, just competitors.

The difference, then, will be in the value and values of Telus in a broader sense.

Charity and community is clearly key to Telus’ corporate outlook. The company currently holds the global title of “Philanthropic Company of the Year.”

Locally, Telus has already committed to donating a portion of its sales in Whitehorse to our invaluable Child Development Centre.

And the company topped up local 9-year-old fundraising aficionado, Cole Byers’s, jaw-dropping $15,000 to battle diabetes with a cheque for another $5,000.

All this before they’d even sold a phone here, and they promise there’s more to come.

But I think there’s a more important aspect of Telus that deserves attention and credit.

The company is structured very differently from every other telecommunications provider in our country, in that it is not a media conglomerate.

The same cannot be said for Canada’s other telecommunications providers.

You could refer to Bell, Rogers and Shaw as Canada’s “Big Three,” in the same sense that once there were the “Big Five” media conglomerates in the United States.

In the early part of the last century, MGM, Warner Bros., Paramount, Columbia, and RKO ruled the movie business end-to-end. They made the movies. They distributed the movies. And they owned the theatres that showed the movies.

The Big Five represented an incredibly formidable fortress of centralized business and information control.

As the heads of these media empires, men like Louis B. Meyer, Jack Warner and Howard Hughes were able to decree the type and quality of media information that the majority of Americans consumed.

Their control over the public consciousness became so great that the US government eventually decided to break up the party.

The Feds took the Big Five to court and in 1948 they were found to be in violation of antitrust.

As a result, the conglomerates were broken up into separate production, distribution, and theatre entities.

There’s a lesson to be learned about Canada’s Big Three in this. If you swap out the concept of a “theatre” for a “mobile phone” (the modern equivalent of a theatre, really), you’ll find a business and information structure in Canada that’s eerily similar to that of the Big Five.

Rogers owns media production companies, radio stations, magazines, and television stations. Heck, it owns the Blue Jays.

Bell owns the Globe and Mail, CTV, and MuchMusic.

Shaw owns numerous television properties, including the Global Television network, and radio stations across the country.

All three companies also own multiple methods of information distribution such as cable companies, internet companies, and telephone companies.

In other words, Canada’s Big Three own incredibly large, vertical information structures that are designed specifically to control content that Canadians consume, just as the Big Five were designed to do in the US almost 100 years ago.

And if you don’t believe the heads of these media conglomerates will use the power they have at hand to try and manipulate the information that Canadians receive, consider this.

Just a few weeks ago it was revealed that several Bell executives  influenced stories reported through CTV, CTV2 and local Bell Media radio and TV stations across Canada.

Bell was seeking to sway public opinion to favour changes that the conglomerate wants the federal government to make to a major telecommunications issue.

In other words, Bell used its vertically integrated media machine to manufacture and deliver corporate propaganda to Canadians via trusted news sources that it owns.

And therein lies a value of Telus: it’s the only telecommunications company in Canada that is not at the core of a media conglomerate. In fact, the company owns no media properties at all.

So any customer of Telus can rest easy knowing that their money is not going directly towards the manipulation of media information in Canada.

From an information ethics standpoint, Telus is the only reasonable choice of telecommunications provider in Canada.

That’s not to say Telus is perfect — it’s still one element of a national oligopoly that works to keep Canadian wireless and internet prices among the highest in the world.

But at least there is something of a silver lining in the dark cloud of mobile offerings in the Yukon now.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, September 13, 2013.