Telecom conference regulatory panel entertains again

(Rogers’ Ken Engelhart, centre, makes his points. ITWC photo)
 
Every June since 2002 telecommunications service providers, suppliers and regulators have gathered in Toronto for the three-day Canadian Telecom Summit.

Many of the speakers drone on about their companies, upcoming technologies and, occasionally, mildly rap their competitors on the knuckles. 

Then there’s annual regulatory blockbuster panel, usually staffed by vice-presidents of legal affairs from carriers, who see it as their duty to liven things up – or certainly to not let competitors get away with any slurs.

This year’s panel included Wind Mobile’s vice-president of legal affairs Edward Antecol, Bell EVP regulatory Mirko Bibic, John Lawford of the Public Interest Association of Canada, Telus SVP regulatory Ted Woodhead and two who have been on every regulatory panel in the past 12 years, Ken Engelhart, Rogers’ SVP regulatory and Chris Peirce, COO of MTS Allstream.)

These guys are masters of Canadian telecom law (Engelhart teaches at a Toronto law school).

If you want to know what these people are like at the negotiating table, this session is a must.

In recent years it has been new carriers versus startups. The sparks fly, and it was no different this year. Here’s a sampling:

Early in the going Engelhard and Antecol sparred over how much spectrum big carriers like Rogers have compared to new entrants like Wind.

In defending its proposed option plant to buy all the spectrum of Shaw Communicattions and some from Videotron, Engelhart noted the new LTE technology goes faster with more spectrum.

Bell and Telus share spectrum on a joint network, so they can get a faster headland speed. “If our customers are going to have as fast an experience as Bell and Telus, we’re going to need that Shaw spectrum out west, we’re going to need that Videotron spectrum in Toronto.

Antecol protested that “you have oodles of spectrum and we have a tiny, tiny little sliver.”
(Edward Antecol. ITWC photo)

Rogers [TSX: RCI.B], he alleged, uses its spectrum less efficiently than U.S. carriers.

“You (new entrants) have got 15 per cent of the spectrum for 10 per cent of the customers,” retorted Engelhart. “We (incumbents) have 85 per cent of the spectrum for 95 per cent of the customers. Who’s using it more efficiently ?”

“By taking all these little slivers what you’re doing is closing the doors to new entrants to launching a viable LTE service,” Antecol complained.

“Mobilicity said they’ve gone all around the world trying to sell their spectrum [before selling to Telus], so I presume they went to see you, so you could have bought it,” replied Engelhard. “You can again, apparently,” he said to great laughter,  a reference to Ottawa’s ruling three hours earlier sinking the Telus deal.

There was also this lengthy exchange between Antecol and Telus’ [TSX: T] Ted Woodhead.

“If you think we have an environment for sustainable competition, I think you’re deluding yourself,” Antecol said. While Industry Canada has ordered incumbent carriers to share their cellular towers with new entrants, “we pay more to put an antenna on a tower than it costs to put up a new tower … “We’re paying atrocious rents.”  

At last year’s conference Antecol “pulled the fire alarm” over some tower access requrests, groaned Woodhead. “Our people did lot of work and you guys pulled your applications at the last minute.” He denounced the time spent as “wasted effort.”
 
(Telus’ Ted Woodhead. ITWC photo)
“You entered the market thinking Canada was ripe for a pre-paid model with feature phones,” Woodhead said, “and you miscalculated.  Lo and behold … Canadians love data use, high end expensive handsets and they don’t like prepaid so much. That is where your problem is Ed, and no regulatory gift is going to solve that fundamental problem… ”

“We may have started off on the wrong foot,” Antecol replied, “but we adapted pretty quickly and had one of the best quarters in Q4 of all of you in terms of customer acquisition.”

Yes, we had a little misfire at the beginning but we’ve adopted and had one of the best quarters of all of you here in terms of customer acquisition.….

Woodward: “Then don’t blame the misfire on broken radio …

Antecol: “I’m not blaming the misfire on that. I’m saying the incumbents have inflated the cost of tower access to extreme levels …. It costs more to go to arbitration than it costs to build a tower. There’s fundamental problems and they need to be addressed, and hopefully the minister [of industry] will in the coming months.”

Woodward: “It costs a lot of money to build airlines, it costs a lot of money to build telecom networks it costs a lot of money to build railways. You chose the business you wanted to get into…

Antecol: “But you have all the incentives to foreclose our access to those towers, or create extreme pricing. There is a public desire to not have a proliferation of towers, and so there’s and expectation of sharing…

Woodware: “I think that’s rhetoric.”

Antecol: “No, you’re providing the rhetoric.”

 



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