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Michael Geist's Blog

Was Nigel Wright BCE's Source on Telecom Policy?

BCE CEO George Cope is claiming that the company approached the government with concerns about the forthcoming spectrum auction (as I note in this post, Bell has been a longstanding opponent of changes to the foreign investment rules and spectrum set-asides). BCE was particularly concerned with the potential for a large company like Verizon to enter the market as part of a set-aside. Cope says that the government assured him that would not happen and that the source was "the most senior bureaucracy in the country." Leaving aside comments from Rogers Vice-Chair Phil Lind that the government is actively courting Verizon with trips to New York to convince them to enter the market and the public campaign from the Prime Minister's Office to support greater competition, both of which seem to contradict such assurances, Cope's comments raise the question of who provided the information.

Over the past year, there are eight lobbyist communication reports for BCE involving telecommunications.  There is one that reasonably involved "the most senior bureaucracy in the country." On April 25, 2013, BCE officials met with then-Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister Nigel Wright to discuss telecommunications. Wright resigned less than a month later as part of the Senator Mike Duffy scandal. There was an earlier meeting with Wright and Deputy Chief of Staff Derek Vanstone on June 25, 2012 on telecommunications. 

In addition, there were two meetings with Industry Canada Deputy Minister John Knubley (May 28, 2013 and December 5, 2012) that qualify as senior bureaucracy. The remaining five meetings involved assistant deputy ministers or policy advisors (March 4, 2013, March 20, 2013, April 8, 2013, May 29, 2013, and June 28, 2013). Note that there were additional meetings with Nigel Wright and Andre Bachand, a senior advisor the Prime Minister, last August, but both of those meetings are listed as involving broadcasting (presumably the Astral deal).
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A Closer Look at How Bell "Welcomes any Competitor" to the Canadian Wireless Market

Bell was in full lobby mode yesterday with major advertisements and a new website arguing against a spectrum set-aside that could open the door to Verizon entering the Canadian market. CEO George Cope's starting point is that "Bell welcomes any competitor, but they should compete on a level playing field." Both aspects of this statement merit closer scrutiny.

Of all the incumbent telcos, Bell has been the most persistent in trying to limit or delay the removal of foreign investment restrictions that would open the door to new competitors. For example, Bell Canada's July 2010 submission to the government's consultation on changes to the foreign investment rules for telecommunications argued that no changes were needed since there were no problems in the Canadian market:

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