ACTRA slams government’s Wind Mobile decision

 A lobbyist for Canadian artists says the federal government did not have to give Globalive Wireless Management Corp. a licence to compete with Bell, Rogers and Telus, because Craig Wireless Systems Ltd. is “not far behind” in offering wireless service.


Stephen Waddell, national executive director for the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), apparently didn’t realize that a week earlier, Craig Wireless decided to sell all of its spectrum and leave the Canadian market. He also seemed to think Public Mobile, which he claimed “has opened its doors,” was already up and running. The other examples of new wireless entrants he cited, Mobilicity and Videotron Ltd., have yet to launch service.


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Waddell testified Thursday before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. In his testimony, Waddell explained to federal Members of Parliament why he opposes the government’s plan to allow more foreign ownership of telecommunications carriers.


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The purpose of the hearings was to help the committee prepare a report on foreign ownership of telecommunications carriers. The federal Telecommunications Act currently requires licenced common carriers to be Canadian-owned, meaning that, among other criteria, at least 80 per cent of voting shares must be held by Canadians.


Wind Mobile, the cellular service operated by Globalive, is a bone of contention among Canadian nationalists because an Egyptian firm, Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, provided nearly all of Globalive Wireless’ startup funding.

Globalive chairman Anthony Lacavera, a Canadian, holds the majority of voting shares, but the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last year denied Globalive its carrier licence alleging it was effectively foreign controlled. The CRTC ruling was based in part on agreements giving Orascom a say in Globalive’s strategic decisions. In its decision, the CRTC also mentioned Orascom owns the majority of Globalive shares (when non-voting shares are counted), is the major source of its technical expertise and controls the Wind brand, which is used by Orsacom’s subsidiaries in Greece and Italy.


In its finding, the CRTC stated: “Globalive’s adoption and use of a trademark belonging to an Orascom affiliate do provide Orascom (or its controlling shareholder) with influence over Globalive because Orascom has the power to limit how the brand can be used.”


Globalive appealed the CRTC decision to Cabinet, which overturned the CRTC ruling in December. Soon after, Wind Mobile was up and running.



When Industry Canada held auctions for wireless spectrum in 2008, it reserved some of those frequencies for new entrants. Two years later, the only new entrant that is actually offering service is Globalive, which now offers Wind Mobile service in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa.


During his testimony Thursday, Waddell slammed Cabinet’s decision to give the green light to Globalive.

“The government didn’t need to bring Wind in through the back door to create competition,” Waddell said. “We have a number of Canadian companies entering the market. Public Mobile has opened its doors and Craig Wireless, Mobilicity and Videotron are not far behind. Why wouldn’t we support our own and keep the money and innovation in our country?”



Public Mobile is actually not up and running yet and is set to launch in May. Unlike Wind Mobile, it will not initially offer smart phones and uses G band spectrum. By contrast, Wind Mobile offers the BlackBerry Bold 9700, though it only offers three other handsets. Unlike the established cellular providers, Wind Mobile does not offer Apple Inc.’s iPhone.


Mobilicity is the brand name that Data and Audio-visual Enterprises (DAVE) Wireless Inc. plans to use. Videotron Ltd. of Montreal plans to launch some time this year. What Waddell did not mention was Videotron does not plan to include Toronto in its calling area.


The fourth carrier he claimed was “not far behind” was Craig, which had been planning to offer WiMAX service – not cellular – but sold its spectrum to Inukshuk. Craig Wireless is leaving the Canadian market.


Parliament’s industry committee is holding the hearings as a result of a statement in the throne speech earlier this month that the feds plan to “open the doors” to allowing more foreign ownership of Canadian carriers.


Waddell argued this would be a bad idea because in industries other than telecommunications, when companies get bought by foreign firms, they tend to dismantle the plants and send them overseas.


He also argued many other countries, including the U.S., have restrictions on foreign ownership of their own telecom carriers.


He said in an opinion poll commissioned by ACTRA, two-thirds of respondents said telecom carriers are “too important to national security and cultural sovereignty” to be in the hands of foreign shareholders.


Critics of the status quo have argued that more foreign ownership will increase competition in pricing, especially among wireless firms.

“Some argue that foreign ownership is the golden ticket to giving Canadian consumers a break on their mobile and cable bills,” Waddell said. “There’s no question Canadians are being gouged by calbe and telecos. But the problem here isn’t lack of foreign ownership. It’s lack of regulation.”


Proponents of the status quo argue it’s impossible to separate telecommunications from broadcasting.