My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, freely available version) focuses on the CRTC’s wireless number portability consultation. I argue that while the industry regularly touts the Canadian wireless environment as a highly competitive, world-class market, the truth is that Canada trails badly on the number portability issue.
The United States implemented both wireless and wireline portability in 2003, starting with its 100 largest cities and following soon after with the rest of the country. Similar moves are underway worldwide. In Europe, Denmark is working on a joint wireline and wireless portability plan, while most other European Union nations established at least wireless portability several years ago. The situation is much the same in Asia-Pacific with wireless portability implemented in many countries including Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore (Singapore put wireless portability into place eight years ago).
The establishment of both wireless and wireline portability in the Canadian market is clearly long overdue. Unfortunately, the CWTA plan rejects the government’s call for expeditious implementation by relying on a variety of unnecessary delays. For example, unlike the U.S. implementation, which adopted a phased-in approach that emphasized urban areas, the Canadian plan envisions number portability only after the entire Canadian market is ready. Given that 80 percent of the Canadian population lives in urban areas, it seems likely that the vast majority of Canadians could have access to number portability in a matter of months with the appropriate regulatory emphasis on urban areas.
Moreover, the CWTA plan envisions roughly one year of technical upgrades, followed by an additional year of testing, marketing and promotion to prepare consumers for this new service. Canadian consumers have been waiting years for number portability — it is doubtful that they need to wait another eleven months after the infrastructure has been put in place to become fully informed. Canadian wireless providers are major corporations that should be able to easily establish parallel tracks that implement technological upgrades and inform their customers of their new portability rights simultaneously.
Ottawa’s call for expeditious implementation of number portability should be welcomed. It must now be matched by an aggressive CRTC approach, one that rejects the CWTA’s meandering and demands that Canadian carriers begin marketing number portability immediately with phased rollouts to commence early next year. It is time for Canada’s wireless providers to put the needs of their consumers first by quickly implementing the long-awaited number portability