Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry today promoted the government’s plans for wireless affordability. The effort was largely an attempt to reiterate its wireless affordability platform, which targeted a 25 per cent reduction in consumer wireless bills by emphasizing more competition through MVNOs and spectrum set-asides. The renewed emphasis on the policy comes as an updated Wall Report finds that prices have been declining in some baskets (the long-overdue emergence of unlimited-ish plans a key factor), but not in the core middle tier of plans where prices remain high. The government states “Canadians have been paying more overall compared to consumers in other G7 countries and Australia” and noted that the government will track pricing on a quarterly basis starting from January 2020. Coming on the heels of threats from incumbent telecom companies such as Telus, it was good for the government to re-assert its policy objectives for the sector.
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Bains’ Other Wireless Affordability Problem: The Broadcast Panel Plan for WhatsApp, Skype and Other Internet Services to Pay Canadian Broadband Taxes
The big headline story from the first week of the CRTC hearing into the wireless market was undoubtedly Telus CEO Darren Entwistle closing hours of testimony with a threat to slash investment and jobs if the Commission follows through with a mandated MVNO model. Entwistle told the CRTC:
There’s been a lot of conjecture related to disinvestment or reduced investment. It’s been a high topic related to what will happen as it pertains to MVNOs being introduced or another 25 percent price reduction being enforced, having already bettered the existing one that’s in place. And there are some views that this is just theatre perpetrated by the incumbents, in that if mandated MVNOs come to fruition or there’s an enforced second tier 25 percent reduction we will go on with status quo investing.
So one of the additional things I would like to file with you in confidence that I brought here today is a Board resolution at TELUS signed by all of our Board directors instructing management to pursue an investment reduction plan and a job reduction plan and a philanthropic giving reduction plan should these eventualities present themselves. And we’re discussing numbers where the reduction, and we’ll go public with it, but I’ll file with you the Board resolution, in the vicinity of a billion dollars of reduced investment over the next 5‑year. The reduced employment is in the zip code of 5,000 jobs over the next 5‑years.
In other words, in a bid to demonstrate that this was not theatre, Entwistle engaged in theatrics by pointing to a resolution from a board of which he is a member that supports his case.
Deja Vu All Over Again: Looking Back at Two Decades of Bell, Telus and Rogers Battles Over the Canadian Wireless Market
In the weeks leading up to the CRTC hearing on wireless services, there was no shortage of corporate lobbying, opinion pieces from telecom company consultants downplaying concerns about the competitiveness of the Canadian wireless market, and comments from company executives threatening to reduce investment if the CRTC mandated new competitions through MVNOs. Those claims have continued this week throughout the hearing.
Independent studies from around the globe have for years (here, here, here, here, here) found that Canadians face some of the highest wireless prices in the developed world. Yet if the usual claims of a fiercely competitive, reasonably priced wireless market provides a sense of deja vu, consider:
The LawBytes Podcast, Episode 39: “The Day I Can Offer Service, Prices Come Down” – Elliot Noss on MVNOs and the CRTC Hearing on Wireless Services
The long awaited CRTC review into wireless services kicks off this week with virtually every key stakeholder – the big carriers, regional carriers, independent carriers, consumer groups, and many others – making their way to Gatineau to set out their vision for the future of wireless services in Canada. Elliot Noss, the CEO of Tucows, owns Ting, an MVNO that has carved out a niche in the U.S. market, but does not offer service in Canada as the big carriers won’t play ball. Elliot joins the podcast in advance of the CRTC hearing to discuss the state of Canadian wireless market, the role of MVNOs, and what he thinks needs to happen in Canada to make pricing more competitive.
The past year has been an incredibly active one for Canadian digital law and policy with important Supreme Court cases, legislative proposals, committee reports, expert panels, and political promises to reform existing laws and regulation. For this final Lawbytes podcast of 2019, I go solo without a guest to talk about the most significant trends and developments in Canadian digital policy from the past year and think a bit about what may lie ahead next year. I focus on five issues: the “euro-fication” of Canadian digital policy, the debate over the competitiveness of the Canadian wireless market, the many calls for privacy law reform, the future of Canadian copyright reform, and the review of Canadian broadcast and telecom law.