The highlight of the annual Canadian Telecom Summit is the “regulatory blockbuster” panel, which usually sees lawyers from competing carriers hurling barbs – sometimes politely, sometimes not -- at each other, Ottawa or the federal telecommunications regulator.
Tuesday’s panel at the Toronto conference was no different, with participants from five operators and a consumer group letting loose on a range of issues.
Here’s what you missed:
--On Ottawa’s upcoming liberalization of foreign telecom ownership, which will allow foreign companies to take over wireless carriers with less than 10 per cent of the market:
Totally unnecessary, said Mirko Bibic, Bell Canada’s chief legal officer. With some cities seeing five wireless carriers duking it out “it’s a classic public policy solution in search of a problem.”
It would create a two-tier capital financing regime, he added, with one set of rules for those who want to invest in incumbents like Bell, Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Communications, and other for other wireless companies.
Not only that, in the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction a foreign-controlled wireless company would have a great advantage over incumbents, he said, because incumbents can only buy one block of spectrum each in every geography. New entrants like Mobilicity, Public Mobile, Wind Mobile or Videotron can buy two blocks. If they’re backed by a foreign “giant,” outsiders would have a two-to-one advantage in buying spectrum, he argued.
So he suggested that if a foreign carrier takes over an incumbent, the auction rules should change so all bidders can only buy one block per geography.
“I’m amazed at this whining,” retorted Edward Antecol, vice president of regulatory affairs for Wind Mobile’s parent, Globalive Wireless Management.
The incumbents – which he dubbed ‘Robelus’—have 85 per cent of the spectrum Industry Canada has given or auctioned off over the years, he said.
No one, he added, is going to outbid an incumbent carrier, he added.
The issue is moot, because during an interview at the conference with reporters, Industry Minister Christian Paradis said the government has no intention of changing the 10 per cent rule.
--On the need for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to set up a national wireless marketing code of conduct for carriers to head off provinces who might each pass their own legislation:
Bibic warned against a “hodge-podge” of differing provincial laws covering cellphone contracts, but Antecol said Bell, Rogers and Telus “want the CRTC to save them from themselves,” from what he called “consumer abuses.”
He complained Rogers has made a “wishy-washy” proposal for a code to the CRTC that doesn’t protect consumers, who would have to give a carrier 30 days notice to cancel service, to pay $50 fee and cover some of the subsidy on a cellphone.