The CRTC has released its much-anticipated re-consideration ruling on how regional and smaller wireless companies access wholesale roaming services from larger providers. By sending a previous CRTC decision back to the Commission for re-consideration, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains signalled the government’s hope that the competitiveness problems in the Canadian wireless sector – consumers still pay some of the highest rates in the world – could be addressed through mandating access for new competitors on a wholesale basis. The Commission reviewed its earlier decision and basically said thanks, but no thanks, keeping the key policy elements unchanged.
While the Commission is altering how it calculates wholesale rates (which will lead to lower wholesale costs), moving toward creating low-cost data-only plans (carriers have a month to provide it with proposed plans), and will begin a new review of its mobile virtual network operator policy (MVNO) within a year, the decision represents a set-back for consumers and for a government that seemingly hoped the CRTC would take steps toward fostering a more competitive wireless environment. Instead, the Commission is siding with carriers that argue that mandated access would have a negative impact on their investment plans:
while the introduction of resale competition could result in some improvement to affordability, the Commission considers that the potential negative impact on investment outweighs that benefit. As to whether the evidence demonstrates in a “sufficiently clear and significant manner” that that potential negative impact on investment is outweighed by the potential positive impact on affordability, the Commission notes that its findings in this regard are based on the evidence that comprises the record of the current proceeding. Given the circumstances, the Commission considers that the record is persuasive insofar as it establishes that there is a risk to the investment by certain wireless carriers, especially with respect to expansion in rural areas, if the Commission were to expand access to wholesale wireless roaming.
The CRTC will seek new evidence on the state of the market as part of the next review, but that will not conclude until 2020. After that, even if it established a mandated MVNO policy, there would be appeals, reviews, and presumably further hearings. In other words, there is little relief coming for most consumers from the Commission on the state of wireless competition in Canada. Given the government’s stated concerns with wireless affordability, further steps may require a political or legislative solution. Over to you, Minister Bains.