Appeared in the Toronto Star on April 13, 2013 as Deep Divisions Surface in Canada’s Wireless Industry The Canadian wireless sector was shocked last week by the abrupt departure of the three major new entrants – Wind Mobile, Public Mobile, and Mobilicity – from the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association. The […]
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The issue of spectrum transfers has generated considerable attention over the past few weeks as Industry Canada prepares to unveil a transfer policy in response to the proposed sale of spectrum by Shaw to Rogers. Industry Minister Christian Paradis has made it clear that he is uncomfortable with the proposed sale, acknowledging that the intent of the 2008 spectrum auction set aside was not to have the spectrum end up in the hands of incumbents. While the incumbents and their supporters are raising the concerns about market uncertainty and potential lawsuits, the reality is that the government’s policy on the Canadian wireless market has been clear since 2007. Despite the efforts of the CWTA and the incumbents to convince politicians and the public that Canada is a competitive market, the government believes more competition is needed.
The Conservatives’ policy on wireless competition solidified in 2007, when Prime Minister Harper shuffled then-Industry Minister Maxime Bernier (who most believed was opposed to government intervention in the form of a set-aside or other measures) with Jim Prentice. Within months, Prentice unveiled the government’s policy with the headline “Government Opts for More Competition in the Wireless Sector.” In case there was any lingering doubt about where the government stood, the release noted:
Recent studies comparing international pricing of wireless services show Canadian consumers and businesses pay more for many of these services than people in other countries. These services are key to strengthening the competitiveness of Canadian business.
The Canadian wireless sector was hit by a shock yesterday as the three major new entrants – Wind Mobile, Public Mobile, and Mobilicity – announced that they were withdrawing from the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association. The companies argued that the CWTA has shown consistent bias in favour of Bell, Telus, and Rogers, the three incumbent providers. All three used strong language to emphasize their frustration with the CWTA, speaking of a “blatant disregard” for new entrants and failures to honour promises of fair representation.
The move is a major blow to the CWTA, which has long promoted itself as the voice of the industry. For example, during the recent CRTC consumer wireless code hearing, it opened by stating:
CWTA represents virtually all of the major companies in Canada’s wireless telecommunications ecosystem. Our members include wireless service providers, handset manufacturers, builders of network, infrastructure and numerous other companies that develop and produce products and services for the industry and for consumers.
No longer. So why the change?
The government may have killed lawful access, but the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association apparently thinks it will return and is urging the government to earmark revenues generated by the forthcoming spectrum auction to pay for it. In an appearance before the Standing Committee on Industry on March 26th, CWTA President […]
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the decision to embark on a national, enforceable code of conduct for wireless services supported by the wireless carriers represents a dramatic policy shift that was scarcely imaginable only a few years. Indeed, when then-Industry Minister Maxime Bernier pushed through a policy direction to the CRTC in 2006 aimed at limiting regulation by calling for “greater reliance on market forces”, consumer-focused regulations were viewed as an impossibility. Consistent with the market-led approach, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association introduced a voluntary code of conduct in 2009 with no expectation of government regulation.
The move toward new regulations provides a valuable lesson on the role that the provinces can play to jumpstart otherwise stagnating issues. In the case of wireless services, the introduction of provincial consumer protections geared specifically toward the wireless sector ultimately encouraged the carriers to drop their opposition to new regulation as they recognized that a uniform federal policy was preferable to the emerging piecemeal provincial framework.