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.”
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The very public fight over ride sharing services such as Uber was in the spotlight again last week as taxi drivers took to the streets in Toronto to protest against the ongoing availability of unregulated services. The result was a public relations nightmare: drivers comparing Uber to ISIS, engaging in dangerous activity with cars on the road, slowing the ability for an ambulance to arrive at its destination, and even injuring a police officer riding a bicycle.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the hysterics are unlikely to generate much support from the public, but they do point to the need for local municipalities to address the festering policy issue. Uber and other ride sharing services are too popular among consumers to be banned. Nor should they be. The injection of new competition and innovation is good for the public, offering more consumer choice and new economic opportunities for drivers. Indeed, much of the demand for alternatives reflects frustration with poor service that can emerge in an artificially closed market.
As the launch of the Canadian anti-spam law neared last spring, critics warned that enforcement was likely to present an enormous challenge. Citing the global nature of the Internet and the millions of spam messages sent each day, many argued that enforcement bodies such as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Competition Bureau were ill-suited to combating the problem.
My regular technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that in recent weeks it has become increasingly clear that the CRTC and the Bureau can enforce the law against companies that send commercial emails that run afoul of the new legal standards. Those agencies have completed three enforcement actions against Canadian businesses that point to the risks of millions of dollars in fines for failing to obtain proper consent before sending commercial messages, not granting users the ability to unsubscribe from further messages, or sending false or misleading information.
Industry Minister James Moore announced new spectrum policy measures yesterday designed to help foster the creation of a viable fourth national wireless competitor. The policy features an accelerated timeline for another spectrum auction (AWS-3) and a significant set-aside of spectrum for new entrants such as Wind Mobile. When combined with the government’s policies on domestic roaming, tower sharing, and foreign investment, it is clear that it intends to continue to use the policy levers at its disposal to encourage greater wireless competition. For this, the government deserves kudos, as its emphasis on fostering greater competition is the right thing to do.
While the announcement generated criticism from the usual suspects who want Canadians to believe that the market is already competitive (or incredibly might somehow become more competitive if it shrunk down further to two competitors), it is worth revisiting the Competition Bureau’s analysis of the wireless market. Earlier this year, Canada’s independent agency responsible for competition in the marketplace concluded that the Big 3 enjoy “market power”, which it defines as “the ability of a firm or firms to profitably maintain prices above competitive levels (or similarly restrict non-price dimensions of competition) for a significant period of time.” In fact, the Bureau commissioned its own study of the market on domestic roaming and found that a more competitive market would deliver approximately $1 billion in benefits to the Canadian economy.
As if on cue, the Big 3’s most recent quarterly investor calls confirmed that they face little Canadian pricing pressure.
The Canadian Competition Bureau has filed a submission to the CRTC’s wholesale mobile wireless services review in which it reaffirmed its view that the Canadian wireless market is uncompetitive and would benefit from regulation. The Bureau finds that a more competitive market would deliver $1 billion annually in benefits to the Canadian economy:
incumbents appear to have the ability and incentive to profitably raise the rates they charge their retail competitors for wholesale roaming services, and potentially other wholesale arrangements, above competitive levels. The incumbents’ wholesale customers may be passing these price increases on to retail customers. These retail price increases may be harming competition in retail mobile wireless services markets in Canada. In particular, more competitive markets could deliver approximately $1 billion in benefits to the Canadian economy.