The Canadian government has prioritized innovation as a marquee policy issue. There are signals that Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains will use the upcoming budget to overhaul the myriad of innovation funding and support programs that have cost billions of dollars with only a limited return on investment. There is no reason to doubt the commitment to innovation, but a national strategy must involve more than changes to how the government doles out cash incentives.
Yet when presented with the opportunity to address a core component of any serious innovation strategy – the communications sector that provides the foundation for the digital economy – Mr. Bains last week took a look at a market that the Competition Bureau found suffers from coordinated behaviour among the three dominant providers and simply whiffed. The decision to approve the merger of BCE and Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) with only minor tinkering seems certain to increase wireless pricing for Manitoba residents and eliminate one of the few competitive bright spots in Canada.
Read more ›
The National Post has a story today on a research note written by Maher Yaghi, a telecom analyst, warning about the “regulatory risks” of the CRTC’s review of the wireless code. The article focuses on a single analyst, but there is a long tradition in Canada of the industry saying one thing to the regulator and another to the business community (see, for example, Bell’s position on investing in fibre networks) so the comments likely reflect industry concerns. What regulatory risks might arise from changes to the wireless code?
Yaghi cites two concerns that lay plain why the industry has been fighting potential changes. The issue is not, as some would have you believe, increased regulatory costs. Rather, the fear is that changes would create better informed consumers who would seek cheaper pricing and be freer to take advantage of marketplace competition.
Read more ›
Bell announced plans this morning to buy MTS, the Manitoba-based wireless carrier that has been critical to creating a more competitive wireless market in the province. The nearly $4 billion deal would include a commitment to divest one-third of MTS wireless customers to Telus. The agreement is still subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals along with figuring out how some customers go to Telus and some stay with Bell. While the government has yet to articulate a clear strategy for wireless competition in Canada, the deal appears to kill the hope of four carriers in each market and will likely mean sharply increased prices for Manitoba consumers.
With the four competitors in Manitoba – Bell, Telus, Rogers, and MTS – the province features some of the lowest wireless prices in Canada. Compare Bell’s wireless pricing for consumers in Manitoba and Ontario. The cost of an unlimited nationwide calling share plan in Manitoba is $50. The same plan in Ontario is $65. The difference in data costs are even larger: Bell offers 6 GB for $20 in Manitoba. The same $20 will get you just 500 MB in Ontario. In fact, 5 GB costs $50 in Ontario, more than double the cost in Manitoba for less data. The other carriers such as Rogers and Telus also offer lower pricing in Manitoba. The reason is obvious: the presence of a fourth carrier creates more competition and lower pricing. With MTS out of the way – and Bell and Telus sharing the same wireless network – prices are bound to increase to levels more commonly found in the rest of the country.
Read more ›
Today is “Cellphone Freedom Day”, the day that most Canadian consumers can say goodbye to three year cellphone contracts. With the Federal Court of Appeal recently rejecting an attempt by the major carriers to stop the retroactive applicability of wireless code as of June 3rd (the two year anniversary of the code), consumers with cellphones that have run for more than 24 months can now cancel their contracts without penalty. That includes consumers with three years contracts that still have time left on their contract. As the CCTS notes:
three-year contracts which have run for more than 24 months can be cancelled without payment of cancellation fees, as the Code requires such fees to be reduced to zero within 24 months. Cancellation of three-year contracts in which the customer received a device subsidy but which have not yet run for 24 months (those entered into between June 3 and December 2, 2013) may still require payment of a cancellation fee.
Since the wireless companies switched to two-year contracts soon after the CRTC’s wireless code decision, there will be relatively few consumers with three year contracts that have not run for 24 months and those will hit the two-year mark within the next few weeks or months.
Read more ›
The competitiveness of Canadian wireless services has been the source of an ongoing and contentious debate for years. Last week, Canada’s telecom regulator concluded that there is a competitiveness problem, yet in a decision surprisingly applauded by many groups, declined to use much of its regulatory toolkit to address the problem. Instead, it placed a big bet on the prospect of a smaller wireless carrier somehow emerging as a fourth national player.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission began investigating the wholesale wireless services market in 2013. The big three wireless companies – Bell, Rogers, and Telus – argued that the market was competitive and that no regulatory action was needed. By contrast, new entrants such as Wind Mobile called for regulated roaming rates so that they could offer viable national services with more affordable connectivity wherever their customers roam.
Read more ›