Time for telecom foreign control review
This might be Foreign Carrier Control Review Week. That's because some six weeks after the federal cabinet chucked the CRTC's Globalive Wireless ruling in the Rideau, we may actually hear from Parliament on the worth of the foreign control provisions of theTelecommunications Act . For those who don't recall, cabinet said the telecom regulator was wrong to conclude that Globalive Wireless Management Corp. is controlled by Orascom Telecom S.A.E. But, cabinet added, the ruling shouldn't be seen as a precedent for other companies hoping to structure themselves like Globalive.
The Liberal and NDP opposition say they will raise the ruling in Question Period when the House resumes this week. Mind you, we can't say if there will be a debate of substance. Liberal Industry critic Marc Garneau told Bloomberg News last week that his party's biggest complaint is that the decision was done without consulting Parliament. He didn't say it was wrong, leaving the impression that the Grits are upset with the process, which is legal. That doesn't tell us much about where the Liberals stand. Brian Masse of the NDP was more pointed: “The problem with Globalive is that they've gotten a different set of treatment and rules than other people,” he told Bloomberg. “You have some operating under the old rules and some under the new rules and that's unfortunate.”  Unfortunate is a mild word. At least one industry analyst believes the current rules help keep wireless rates high.
Whether the government will sidestep any attack by launching a new review of foreign ownership and control regulations in the telecom industry is a question. Certainly it can duck the issue by doing so, although the opposition has shown no sign of making it a cause celebre. Still, remember that the 2008 Competition Policy Review Panel chaired by former  BCE Inc. president and CEO Lynton Wilson called for an easing of investment restructions in the telecom and broadcast sectors, starting with a reveiw of the rules every five years. In making its decision the cabinet has created confusion over foreign investment in telecommunications. It's time that confusion was cleared up.
Meanwhlle, the CRTC last week notified carriers that it wants to know a bit more about their ownership structure. With corporate structures becoming multi-layered, the commission wants to know a lot more than it used to about parent companies, capital structure, shareholders and directors of any entity that has a piece of a carrier. Why now? Ostensibly, it's part of the foreign ownership review process the commission started last year, which creates four categories of review. No sense in having reviews, I suppose, if you don't have all the information. On the other hand, it may have something to do with the public grilling Globalive owners got from commission members last fall, when Globalive had to bare much of its secrets. It's a grilling that some of the startups aren't having to face. Perhaps the commission feels everyone should get the same scrutiny, incument and startup. On the other hand, with the commission not knowing which way cabinet is leaning on foreign control, why bother?
There's no substitute for a full review of the country's telecom competition and foreign control policy. If the Harper government hasn't got the strength to call a full debate on its telecom foreign control policy, if it can't propose legislation to clarify the Telecommunications Act, then it should at least fall back on a tried and true Canadian answer: Appoint a specialized review panel to report back in 12 months. That would be a great start.

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