Last week was a busy one in the wireless world in Canada. Just as people were debating the proposed Rogers – Shaw merger, the CRTC released its long awaited wireless decision involving the possibility of mandated MVNOs or mobile virtual network operators. While the CRTC notably concluded that Canadian wireless pricing is high relative to other countries and attributed that to insufficient competition, it ultimately was unwilling to fully embrace a broad-based mandated MVNO model. To help break down these recent developments, joining the Law Bytes podcast this week are Dwayne Winseck, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University and the director of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, and Ben Klass, a senior research associate at the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project and board member at the Internet Society Canada Chapter. They both join the podcast in a personal capacity representing only their own views.
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The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 83: Inside in the Industry Committee Hearing on the Proposed Rogers-Shaw Merger
When the proposed Rogers – Shaw merger was announced last month, it immediately became a flashpoint for Canada’s ongoing debate over wireless competition and pricing. The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology moved quickly to put the proposed merger under the microscope with hearings that have included Rogers and Shaw along with academics, competitors, and regulators. I was invited to appear before the committee and provide my take on the implications of the merger. This week’s Law Bytes podcast goes inside the virtual hearing room with my short opening statement followed by clips of the Q &A with several Members of Parliament.
The Canadian technology community has a long history of working together with government and regulators to counter online harms such botnets, spam, and malicious hacking. It therefore came as a surprise when the CRTC launched a consultation on addressing botnets that raised the possibility of the regulator stepping in with new blocking mandates. The consultation just completed its first round of comments and in addition to industry experts, there were others that opportunistically looked at the blocking discussion as the chance to promote copyright related blocking or other Internet blocking requirements.
Jonathan Curtis has been at the heart of battling botnets and online harms for decades with work at Bell, the CRTC, and leading security companies. He joins the Law Bytes podcast in a personal capacity to place the online security challenges in historical context and to outline both the benefits and risks that come from the potential blocking approaches raised by the CRTC.
In early 2018, Bell led a consortium of companies and organizations arguing for the creation of a new website blocking system in Canada. Complete with a new anti-piracy agency and CRTC stamp of approval, the vision was to create a new system to mandate site blocking across ISPs in Canada. Canadians challenged the so-called FairPlay proposal and the CRTC rejected the Bell application on jurisdictional grounds. Since that time, the Canadian courts have been dealing with site blocking requests (the Federal Court of Appeal is soon set to hear arguments on the issue) and the Canadian copyright review conducted by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology decided against recommending the creation of a new administrative system for site blocking.
Having spent a good chunk of Monday talking to reporters about the proposed Rogers merger with Shaw, I thought it might be worth highlighting my initial three takeaways. First – and this is stating the obvious – the deal will result in higher prices and less competition. There is no need to overthink any of this. Removing a company that some have touted as the best chance at a viable national fourth carrier would leave some of Canada’s biggest markets (notably Ontario, Alberta, and B.C.) without a much needed competitor. Canadians already pay some of the highest prices for wireless services in the world and if this merger is approved, the situation will only get worse. Indeed, when Rogers promises that it will not raise prices for Shaw/Freedom Mobile customers for three years, it is effectively committing to raising them as soon as the clock runs out on that timeline.