As the lobby onslaught from Bell, Telus, and Rogers bears some fruit – editorials from the Globe and Toronto Star calling for the government to reverse its position on a set-aside as well as support from the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and from a leading telecom union – it is worth considering whether the Canadian policy differs significantly from other developed economies. The Canadian policy boils down to the two issues: opening the door to telecom foreign investment after years of restrictions and creating a spectrum set-aside to ensure that new entrants (whether domestic or foreign) have a reasonable shot at winning sufficient spectrum to offer competitive wireless services in Canada.
While the big three argue for a “level playing field”, the reality is that Bell, Telus, and Rogers already enjoy enormous marketplace advantages. As I’ve previously discussed, these include restrictions on foreign ownership for broadcast distribution, extensive broadcast assets that Verizon could not touch, millions of subscribers locked into long term contracts, far more spectrum than Verizon would own, and shared networks that saves the companies millions of dollars. In the absence of a set-aside, the incentives for the big three would be to pay far above market price for the spectrum in order to keep competitors out of the market. In other words, Bell, Telus and Rogers will massively over-pay for the spectrum to keep out Verizon unless the government establishes a policy that precludes them from doing so.
The incumbent talking points might lead some to believe that the Canadian policy is dramatically different from other countries (Bell has been talking about how the U.S. would never grant equivalent access, while the Globe speculates that perhaps the policy is “the result of a drafting error”). Yet a review of recent spectrum auctions in other OECD countries indicates that the twin policy of encouraging foreign investment plus establishing set-asides to facilitate competition is very common. The biggest difference between Canada and many other developed economies is that Canada is late to opening its telecom market and is therefore doing both at roughly the same time. In other countries, foreign investment restrictions in the telecom market were removed years ago.
Read more ›
Bell was in full lobby mode yesterday with major advertisements and a new website arguing against a spectrum set-aside that could open the door to Verizon entering the Canadian market. CEO George Cope’s starting point is that “Bell welcomes any competitor, but they should compete on a level playing field.” Both aspects of this statement merit closer scrutiny.
Of all the incumbent telcos, Bell has been the most persistent in trying to limit or delay the removal of foreign investment restrictions that would open the door to new competitors. For example, Bell Canada’s July 2010 submission to the government’s consultation on changes to the foreign investment rules for telecommunications argued that no changes were needed since there were no problems in the Canadian market:
Read more ›
Telus is currently engaged in a full-court lobbying press aimed at killing the government’s plans for a spectrum set-aside for new entrants in the forthcoming spectrum auction with Telus CEO Darren Entwistle warning ominously of a “bloodbath” should the government move ahead with its strategy. Entwistle notes that the company has invested more than $100 billion in the Canada and that the industry as a whole has invested $420 billion. Yet only a fraction of those figures are actually linked to wireless investment in the way that most would conceive of it. A Telus spokesperson said yesterday that spending on technology and infrastructure was actually $30 billion, leaving $70 billion for operational expenses, such as paying salaries, office supplies, and rent. Last year the CWTA said the entire Canadian wireless industry has invested $25 billion on spectrum and wireless infrastructure. That is a far cry from Entwistle’s $420 billion figure, which is apparently based on such a broad notion of investment that my lunch at Subways and coffee at the Second Cup is also an investment. More on the Telus numbers in a must-read post from Peter Nowak.
Read more ›
Telecom giant Telus has had an eventful week as it moves from claiming that Canada “really should be the most expensive country for wireless service in the OECD” to increasing its prices in the shift toward two-year contracts to now declaring war on the government’s commitment to injecting greater competition into the Canadian marketplace. While the comments that something less than the highest prices in the developed world are a “great success story we should be celebrating” generated considerable media attention (here, here and here), the bigger long-term issue is the full-court lobbying press to stop the entrance of new competition.
Yesterday, Telus CEO Darren Entwistle was campaigning at the Globe and Mail and National Post, warning of a “bloodbath” if the government sticks with its commitment to allow for a set-aside of spectrum for new entrants such as Verizon. Telus is concerned that a set-aside would allow Verizon to purchase two of the four available blocks, leaving the big three to fight it out over the remaining two blocks. Telus emphasized its prior investments in arguing for a “level playing field” in the auction.
Yet to borrow Telus’ phrase – “scratch the surface of their arguments and get to the facts” – and it becomes clear the fight is not about level playing fields since new entrants have been at a huge disadvantage for years in Canada. Indeed, even with a spectrum set-aside, there would not be a level playing field as companies such as Telus would have big advantages that include restrictions on foreign ownership for broadcast distribution (thereby blocking Verizon from offering similar bundled services), millions of subscribers locked into long term contracts, far more spectrum than Verizon would own, and its shared network with Bell that has saved both companies millions of dollars.
Read more ›
Rogers Communications held its quarterly results call yesterday, leading to a question on its expectation with regard to an Industry Canada decision on its proposed acquisition of spectrum from Shaw. Industry Minister Christian Paradis has signalled his concern with the proposal. Perhaps hoping for a delay in the decision, Rogers […]
Read more ›