Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government ordered Canada’s telecommunications regulator to focus on making internet access more affordable for consumers, a policy shift to help smaller firms compete with major providers. 

The government wants to strengthen rules so that it’s faster and cheaper for internet resellers to cut deals to lease network access from large companies including Rogers Communications Inc. and BCE Inc. The new direction, which came into force Monday, replaces an old policy that said the regulator should rely on market forces. 

“While progress has been made, Canadians still pay too much and see too little competition,” Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said in a statement. “These objectives will ensure that affordable access to high-quality, reliable and resilient telecommunications services, is available in all regions of Canada.”

The policy change comes amid an effort by two of Canada’s largest telecommunications firms to combine and concern that the merger may lead to higher prices. Rogers and Shaw Communications Inc. are awaiting Champagne’s approval after winning two court cases attempting to block their deal in recent months.

Government officials said in a background briefing that the regulator, known as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, will also try to make internet more affordable by ensuring that wholesale access is “available evenly across the market,” including on fiber-to-the-home networks like the kind owned by BCE and Telus Corp.  

The government also said the regulator should “improve” its hybrid mobile virtual network operator model — a complex set of rules designed to make it easier for regional cable companies such as Quebecor Inc. and Cogeco Communications Inc. to sell wireless services.

Separately on Monday, Champagne said he’s not bound by a Feb. 17 deadline that Rogers and Shaw have set to close their merger, adding that he would focus on the “interests of Canadians” in making his decision.