This week’s report that Canada is an outlier on wireless services with carriers generating more revenue per SIM than carriers in other countries and Canadian consumers on the low end of data usage, represents the latest in a long line of similar independent reports that confirm Canada’s status as a high-cost, low usage wireless market. Indeed, a government-commissioned comparative study, CRTC data, OECD data, and Rewheel Research all tell a similar story. Given that there is little to debate about the state of Canadian wireless pricing, the big question is now what Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains is prepared to do about it.
A new book from long-time Rogers executive Phil Lind provides insights into the backlash that any significant efforts to inject more competition into the market is likely to face from the incumbent carriers. The book contains several pages recounting the carrier battle in 2013 against Verizon entering the Canadian market with the active support of the then-Harper government. The story pulls back the curtain on lobbying efforts that involve active coordination by top tier executives at each company, active lobbying of MPs, journalists, and market analysts, as well as advertising campaigns designed to fight back against market-opening policy measures. Lind starts the story:
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In December 2010, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission passed the Open Internet Order, which featured relatively weak net neutrality rules. Despite their limited impact (the Order did not go as far as the Canadian Internet traffic management practices which were established a year earlier), Verizon challenged their validity in court. A U.S. appeals court sided with Verizon in 2014, ruling that the FCC did not have the authority to issue the order. The Verizon win proved to be short-lived, however, since later this week, the FCC will pass new net neutrality rules that go much further than the 2010 order. As Ars Technica recently noted, the Verizon net neutrality gamble backfired.
The Verizon blunder came to mind this past weekend as word began to circulate that Bell is seeking leave from the courts to challenge the CRTC’s recent net neutrality ruling involving its mobile television service. The company argues that the CRTC does not have the jurisdiction to issue its ruling under the Telecommunications Act (which forbids undue preferences) since the service should be governed by the Broadcasting Act (which does not have an undue preference provision). From Bell’s perspective, the court challenge presumably seems like a no-brainer: if it wins, the ruling is struck down. If it loses, it still delays the implementation of the CRTC decision for months or even years, thereby maintaining its existing practice for the time being.
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Last year’s explosive battle over the potential entry of wireless giant Verizon into the Canadian market may be a distant memory, but the debate over the state of wireless competition remains very much alive. Industry Minister James Moore has pointed to a modest decline in consumer pricing and complaints as evidence that government policies aimed at fostering a more competitive market are working.
The big three wireless carriers remain adamant that the Canadian market is competitive and that while pricing may be high relative to some other countries, that is a function of the quality of their networks. In other words, you get what you pay for.
There is seemingly no major international entrant on the horizon, but the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is currently grappling with an assortment of policy measures aimed at improving the competitiveness of new entrants and facilitating the development of a more robust market for virtual operators who could enhance consumer choice. Moreover, the government is planning another spectrum auction early next year that would benefit new entrants.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that at the heart of the debate is whether creating a fourth national carrier is a legitimate policy goal or a mirage that will do little to decrease pricing or create market innovation. The major carriers argue that the Canadian market is too small to support a fourth national carrier and that competitiveness is not directly correlated to the number of national operators.
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With Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam stating yesterday that “Verizon is not going to Canada”, the government’s best hope for “more choice, lower prices, better service” may have been lost. The mere possibility of a Verizon entry into Canada sparked a massive lobbying campaign by the incumbent carriers, who used every […]
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Throughout the battle this summer over the potential of a Verizon entry into Canada, the incumbent telecom companies have tried to paint their position as supporting more competition, but rejecting the rules the government believes are needed to facilitate that same competition. Wind Mobile CEO Tony Lacavera recently called out […]
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