Canadians say the recently appointed panel of experts examining this country’s telecommunications rules should help homegrown telcos become stronger before encouraging a greater number of competitors, regardless of their ownership.  A newly-released poll by Decima Research Inc. indicates that Canadians hope the telecom review will result in greater choice and cost savings for consumers, even if they hope the rules will favour Canadian companies, and that the committee will give higher priority to lower prices over closing the rural/urban digital divide. The poll was conducted shortly after Ottawa announced that a three-person panel would conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into Canadian telecommunications rules (NL, April 13/05).  That review has three main thrusts: competitive issues, access issues, and the adoption of information and communications technologies by Canadian businesses. Industry Canada’s mandate for the review also contains an open invitation to the panelists to "study and report on any other issues that, in its opinion, are essential to creating a modern telecommunications framework." On the issue of regulatory changes, Decima asked Canadians whether they would prefer to see the review result in "more choices and savings for consumers" or "competitive business telecommunications". By a healthy majority, most said they’d prefer to see consumers come out ahead, by a margin of 57% to 38%.  Decima also asked Canadians whether the panel should focus on helping Canadian companies become larger, or encourage the largest number of competitors. By a wide margin – 72% to 24% – Canadians answered in favour of helping homegrown companies. The difference was greatest among Bloc Québécois supporters, who answered in favour of the nationalist option by a margin of 79% to 20%. The least difference was found among Conservative party supporters, who answered 64% to 31% in favour of helping Canadian companies. Regionally, Quebecers answered in favour of Canadian companies by a margin of 77% to 21%, the largest margin, and the smallest was found in Ontario, where 24% would favour the greatest number of competitors over 69% who would opt for helping Canadian companies grow larger. The differences between Canadians on the issue of closing the digital divide were much smaller. Nationally, 57% of Canadians would choose lower telecom service prices over investing in rural Internet services, versus 36% who would do the opposite. The biggest segment of Canadians answering in favour of lower prices was Bloc Québécois supporters, who answered 69% in favour of that answer.  The largest group answering that rural Internet should take precedence were high-income earners. Of Canadians earning $100,000 or more, 45% would emphasize lower telecom costs, while 49% would earmark more money for investment in rural connectivity. Business telecom competition: a significant priority An interesting finding in the research is that a large number of Canadians believe a competitive business telecommunications market should take priority over creating more choices and cost savings for consumers. Asked which of the two should come out ahead in the review, Canadians nationally opted 57% in favour of consumers, but a full 38% said business telecom should take priority.  The difference was even less pronounced in British Columbia, where fully 43% of residents in that province stated their preference for a focus on business telecom. Among higher-income Canadians, more respondents said competitive business telecommunications were more important than choice and savings for consumers, by a tiny margin of 48% to 47%. Asked whether he viewed the focus on lower prices as being in conflict with goals such as economic nationalism, Decima Research CEO Bruce Anderson said the nature of the survey forced respondents to make choices. "People want a lot of different things, not all of which are equally achievable. When we posited some forced choices, we found that people like competition and choice because it implies lower prices, but they also like the idea of helping create great Canadian companies. Separately, there’s lots of consensus that high speed broadband is an important economic and social goal, but people are generally averse to something like a cross subsidy, where everybody pays more in order to afford progress in rural Canada. Finally, it’s natural for consumers to put their interests over those of businesses, but in this case, there was some hesitation, because people accept that telecommunications is an important input into the growth and health of the economy." All data was collected through the Decima teleVox, a national omnibus telephone survey, with a sample size of 1,018 adult Canadians, providing national results accurate to within +/-3.1% at the 95% confidence interval. The data for this study was collected between April 21 and 24, 2005. For information, contact Bruce Anderson at (613) 230-2200.