Telecom by yum9me (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/53jSy4
The revolving door between government and lobby groups has long been a source of concern in the United States, where lead government IP officials have regularly jumped to lobby groups representing music, movies, and software interests and vice versa. In recent years, that has included the USTR official responsible for copyright in ACTA and the TPP moving the MPAA, the lead software industry lobbyist joining the USTR, and the general counsel of the Copyright Office joining the top international music association.
The Lobby Monitor reports that the revolving door has apparently migrated to Canada, with the former Director of Regulatory Affairs for Music Canada joining the government to play a key role in copyright policy, only to be replaced by the former Director of Parliamentary Affairs within the Prime Minister’s Office, who was the lead on the surprise copyright term extension for sound recordings passed in 2015.
Canada’s New Telecom Policy Begins to Take Shape With Rejection of Bell Appeal, Support for Net Neutrality
For the first six months of the new Liberal government, telecom watchers were unsure about whether Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, would maintain the pro-consumer and competition approach that typified the previous government. The Bains ministerial mandate letter referenced the importance of competition, choice, and investment in communications, leaving enough wiggle room to shift in a new direction.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the full policy remains a mystery, but developments over the past two weeks suggest that a major change in approach is unlikely. With several big issues still to be decided – a plan for universal broadband access and review of the proposed Bell acquisition of MTS among them – getting a better sense of government policy is essential for business and consumers.
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.
The Trouble with the TPP series has identified several instances where promises about deal’s benefits for consumers prove to be largely illusory upon closer examination of the actual text. These include weak privacy protections, anti-spam standards, and e-commerce rules. The same over-promise and under-deliver TPP approach arises with respect to consumer mobile roaming. The TPP contains a large telecom chapter, which some governments used to promote as a key pro-consumer feature of the agreement. For example, the Australian government claimed:
Australia has successfully advocated for a provision that addresses, for the first time, the high cost of International Mobile Roaming.
The Canadian government used similar language in its TPP summary, stating that the TPP “includes, for the first time in a trade agreement, a dedicated article addressing the high cost of international mobile roaming.”
Last year, the Quebec government introduced legislation that would require Internet service providers to block access to unlicensed online gambling sites. It provides that “an Internet service provider may not give access to an online gambling site whose operation is not authorized under Québec law.” The Quebec bill, which is currently before the provincial legislature, is a terrible idea that has been opposed by ISPs and consumer groups. The government views this initiative as a revenue enhancing measure because it wants to direct gamblers to its own Espacejeux, the Loto-Québec run online gaming site. The mandated blocking legislation is unprecedented in Canada and if enacted, it will surely be subject to legal challenge, including the possibility of a constitutional challenge.
The legal challenge may not be limited to constitutional issues, however. The Quebec bill may also be blocked by the TPP, which may be a good outcome, but raises the question of whether a trade agreement is the right way to dictate provincial laws.
How might the TPP apply to provincial online gambling regulation?