Industry Minister turns down telecom conference

Telecommunications industry leaders are in Toronto today for the start of their annual two and a half day conference, but they won’t hear from a key regular speaker: the federal minister of industry.

Christian Paradis had agreed early last month to speak at the Canadian Telecom Summit, but his office cancelled last week.

“It’s unfortunate that the minister doesn’t have the opportunity to talk telecom policy where there are so many issues that the industry and Canadians are looking for guidance for from the government,” said telecom consultant Mark Goldberg, who, along with telecom market research consultant Michael Sone puts on the conference.

Those issues include the struggles new cellular carriers are experiencing, he said, and the long-promised national digital strategy.

“The conference would have been an outstanding platform for the minister to talk to Canadians,” Goldberg said.

 
Even without Paradis the shape of the celluar industry will be one of the main topics of discussion both in the halls and by panelists, said Goldberg.

The annual regulatory panel is expected – as always – to feature company officials dumping on Ottawa as well as competitors. Tuesday’s panel members include executives from Wind Mobile, Bell, Rogers, Telus, MTS Allstream and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).

(Here’s what happened last year “Barbs fly at telecom conference”)

There will also be panel discussions on carrier business models in a converged world, network transformation, how over-the-top TV broadcasting affects carriers, a CIO roundtable and on building an innovation economy.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais will speak, as will Bernard Lord, head of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA). The association used to represent all of the wireless carriers, but startups Wind Mobile, Mobilicity and Public Mobile left, saying the group really acts for the interests of big incumbents.

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There will also be keynote speeches by executives from IBM, Ericsson, Wind Mobile, Telus, Rogers, Cogeco Data Services, and Cisco Systems.

Paradis’ non-appearance will be disappointing to many who are hoping to hear what if anything Ottawa will do to help the cellular industry’s newest carriers — Mobilicity, Wind Mobile and Public Mobile – in their struggle against the three biggest carriers in the country.

Mobilicity says it has to be bought by Telus Corp. to overcome losses it has racked up since launching service in 2010; Public Mobile is reportedly looking for new investment and Wind Mobile’s Amsterdam-based leading financial partner is quietly shopping the Canadian division around.

On top of this, the three startup carriers face a June12 deadline on putting down deposits of millions of dollars to be eligible to bid on the scheduled November auction of prized spectrum in the 700 MHz range.

The startups are hoping Ottawa will delay the deposit deadline to allow them to solidify their finances.

And they are still hoping Industry Canada will tilt rules governing roaming on the networks and sharing the towers of competitors like BCE Inc.’s Bell Mobility [TSX: BCE] , Rogers Communications and Telus [TSX: T] to help them be more attractive to investors.

On top of this Paradis has yet to rule on whether Telus and Rogers can buy spectrum from the new entrants – from Mobilicity in the case of Telus, from Shaw Communications and Videotron in the case of Rogers – which they are banned from doing until next year.

The shape of the three young companies has led some to say the government’s strategy to encourage new entrants to go up against Bell, Rogers [TSX: RCI.B] and Telus – who have just over 90 per cent of the market – is doomed unless it acts.

Paradis’ absence suggests the Harper government isn’t ready yet to address these issues. It may also be that Ottawa is putting off dealing with them if rumors of a cabinet shake-up are true and Paradis is to be shifted.

However, not dealing with some or all of these issues before June 12 could have an impact on the startups.



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