The state of Canadian wireless competition has been a much-discussed issue in recent years with numerous reports providing evidence that Canadians pay some of the highest rates in the world. In fact, even the Competition Bureau has concluded that “market power concerns persist in the Canadian wireless industry” and “when market power is exercised, prices are higher, and wireless penetration is lower, than in a market that is competitive.” In response to the Competition Bureau’s report, Telus argued that the CRTC should “reject the Bureau’s submission in its entirety.”
While that response isn’t particularly surprising, what is notable is how the company says different things to different audiences on the issue of wireless competition. For example, last week Telus CEO Darren Entwistle discussed marketplace competition in the company’s quarterly conference call with business analysts. Entwistle maintained that “we got more competitors in the wireless industry in Canada than just about any country in the world”, adding that the competitive intensity was “bordering on the irrational.” As an example, he cited new data promotions that are reducing growth of average billing per user (ABPU), claiming that the promotions come from competition between the big three, not as a result of new entrants:
Reading between the lines in your question in terms of ABPU pressure, it wasn’t ABPU pressure geographically that would come from, let’s say, a new entrant like Freedom. That would be a wrong conclusion to reach. I think the ABPU pressure is related to the competitive intensity between TELUS, Rogers and Bell. And amongst that group, the entities that are leading rate-based promotions and the data dilution that we’ve seen in terms of growth in the data bucket for the same or less money reflective of things like massive gigabyte promotions that are dilutive.
Yet that is not what Telus itself recently told the CRTC. In commenting on the competitive marketplace, Telus stated:
In December 2017, the national wireless providers offered promotional wireless plans of $60/month for 10GB of data and unlimited Canada-wide voice and text for customers bringing their own device. These plans were in response to Freedom Mobile’s “Big Gig” promotion, offering 10GB of data for $50.
The Telus statement to the CRTC is consistent with media coverage at the time, which widely reported the attempts to match pricing as resulting from competition from a new entrant. The recent attempt by Entwistle to forestall potential new regulatory intervention by claiming irrational wireless competition in Canada and suggesting that the big three alone drive competitive intensity is simply inconsistent with the experience of most Canadians and the views of the Competition Bureau, leaving the company in the awkward position of saying one thing to the regulator and another to the business community.