If you are like me, you get annoyed whenever you are on a zoom meeting and your screen freezes, or you are on a call that gets dropped and the person is only a few farm fields away from you. It’s at moments like these when you really wish your highspeed internet was really high speed, and not just an itemized thing on your internet bill.
Bell Canada has plans for expanding telecommunications in rural areas and is eyeing up the government’s $1.75 billion Universal Broadband Fund to finance costs that Bell might incur while building new infrastructure. Bell has been on the hunt securing the support of municipalities for its application to access these dollars, which rightfully belong to Canadian taxpayers. Of course, everyone wants highspeed internet right? But, the question is begged here, about who owns it and who is going to pay for it. It seems to me, if Bell gets this grant, we are going to have to pay for this infrastructure twice, once to build it, and then again when we use it.
Now, this isn’t the first time that Bell has gone cap in hand looking for money from the Canadian government. Remember the most recent debacle of Bell securing $122 million to pay its employees with the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, after earning only $23.96 billion in revenue last year?
Bell Canada is planning to spend between $1 billion to $1.2 billion on its broadband network over the next 2 years. They made this announcement at the same time they released the news of a 28% increase in net revenue for the first quarter last year ($932 million). The CEO of Bell has stated, “These initiatives reflect our commitment to lead the buildout of Canada’s next-generation digital infrastructure while also delivering increased dividend returns to the shareholders who have invested in Bell’s strategy of broadband innovation and growth.” After all, that is exactly the purpose of a corporation, which is to generate a profit for its shareholders.
We all understand government’s efforts to support infrastructure and bail out failing industries, especially when jobs are at risk. We watched a $13.7-billion injection of Canadian taxpayer money into the auto sector after the 2009 global financial meltdown. In 2018, GM surprised us all when they announced they were closing their Oshawa plant, leaving 2500 people out of work, and an unpaid loan behind. CBC news reported that the Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, quietly authorized a loan write-off which may have been related to the 2009 bailout of GM and Chrysler.
We are watching a growing trend in public investment and a growing trend in declining private sector investment in Canada. We know generally that there is a ton of capital out there in the private sector, and we are challenged with ways on how to shake it loose.
When Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney left the building, he told us that corporate Canada was sitting on mountains of dead money that could be feeding economic growth. It’s estimated that this capital is worth about $600 billion, or 32% of Canada’s GDP.
So, with all this “dead” money sitting out there, we have to wonder why the public purse is the only option to finance corporate infrastructure. In this case, the infrastructure will belong to Bell, and they will be charging us to use it. Essentially, we are contributing public money to privatize assets.
This is one of those private public partnerships (P3s) that magnifies some of the big societal questions for us. Internet access is essential. Is it the responsibility of the state to ensure citizens have essential services, or is it the responsibility of the private sector? Do Canadians support state run utilities, or should this be left in the hands of the corporate world? If we support state-run utilities, are we prepared to fully finance them? Would it be a better option for us to build our own infrastructure, rather than buy assets for a private corporation? As we grapple with these questions, we continue to prop up a capitalist system with our social dollars.
The Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships conducted an analyses of various P3s and concluded a few important things; one is that when the public sector and the private sector get together, they have conflicting goals and objectives. The public sector wants affordable services paid for with their tax dollars, and the private sector wants profits and revenue from user fees. The second major conclusion was that any benefits of P3s are overshadowed by higher costs. These projects result in added user fees that extend far beyond any tax burden.
In summary, Bell wants to use our money to build its broadband network, and then charge us again to use it. Why not? That is what P3s are all about