Fast and Furious is the title of a well-known car chase movie. It also describes the months of government lobbying that’s about to start as carriers drive to frame Industry Canada’s upcoming 700 MHz wireless spectrum auction
to their advantage.
The government has sent a long-awaited discussion paper to carriers calling for written comments on a number of auction technical issues by Feb. 28, with rebuttals filed by March 30.
But the biggest fight will be over whether there is still a need for special rules to encourage wireless competition, despite the entry of four new carriers in the last 12 months.
Expect the new entrants – including Wind Mobile, Public Mobile, Mobilicity and Videotron – to argue heavily for protection from the incumbents.
Spokespersons for Wind, Public Mobile, Rogers Communications Inc. and BCE Inc.'s Bell Canada weren’t available for comment Wednesday. However, Michael Hennessy, senior vice-president of regulatory affairs at incumbent Telus Corp., said the rules in the 2008 auction that paved the way for the newcomers are now “anachronistic.”
“[Wireless] competition is firing away on all engines,” he said. “We’re finding the market is crazily dynamic at this point.”
Cable operator Shaw Communications Inc. of Calgary, one of the 2008 spectrum winners which is preparing to build a new wireless network, found $2 billion to buy Canwest Global Communications Corp. television empire, while the parent of Wind’s largest investor, Orascom Telecommunications Holdings S.A.E. is merging with telecom giant VimpelCom Ltd. Neither needs protection, he argued.
Iain Grant, managing director of the SeaBoard Group, a Montreal-based telecommunications consultancy, said Wednesday the carriers have already been letting Ottawa know where they stand on the next auction for some time. “This paper is just another waypoint” he said. However, he added, the issues it raises are important, particularly whether there will be special rules to promote competition.
"I think the government has every reason to be delighted with what transpired" in the 2008 auction, he said, when spectrum was set aside for new entrants that incumbents like Telus couldn't bid on. The four new carriers that launched over the last 12 months have pushed incumbents in many ways, he said.
Some incumbents have urged Ottawa to hold the auction next year, given the increasing demand for wireless from owners of mobile devices like smart phones, laptops and tablets. However, Industry Minister Tony Clement said last month the auction will likely be held late in 2012.