The Harper government is trying to move some of its levers to ensure there is more competition in the wireless industry.
Facing startups like Wind Mobile
and Public Mobile
whose slow growth since launching just over four years ago has barely taken away market share from the biggest incumbents – Bell Mobility, Rogers Communications and Telus Corp. – Industry Minister Christian Paradis
(pictured) this morning announced Ottawa will
--meet startups complaints by expanding the requirements for incumbents to provide roaming to competitors;
--meet startups’ complaints by strengthening the rules requiring incumbents to share space on their cell towers with competitors;
--ensure at least four providers in every region can buy spectrum in the prized 700 MHz spectrum auction, set to start Nov. 19
--review the government’s policy on spectrum licence transfers.
This last is important in light of Rogers Communication’s deal to tie up the spectrum Shaw Communications bought in 2008 when it intended to become a wireless carrier. After looking at the costs of building a network, Shaw decided against it. Earlier this year it struck a deal to sell the spectrum to Rogers – thus denying it to any new entrant – when the ban on incumbents buying spectrum from startups expires in the fall of 2014.
Opposition mounts to Shaw-Rogers deal
By announcing there will be a consultation on the criteria the government needs to set to approve such sales Paradis is essentially freezing the sale of spectrum. Shaw isn't the only carrier that has wireless spectrum it bought in 2008 that is disposable; Quebecor Inc.'s Videotron, a Quebec-based cable company, also has spectrum covering Toronto that it wants to sell that would be attractive to the big three, as well as startups.
Paradis told Ottawa reporters a decision on the criteria for approving the sale of spectrum should be ready in May.
In 2008 Ottawa staged an auction with rules tilted towards helping new carriers come to Canada to compete against Bell, Rogers and Telus. The three had about 95 per cent of the wireless market. Wind launched in December, 2009, followed by Mobilicity and Public Mobile in the spring of 2010 and then Videotron. The result of the competition has been lower wireless rates, and measured by that the government's policy has been a success. But the big three still have over 90 per cent of subscribers. And while Wind Mobile has around 600,000 subscribers, the telecom giant that will be its new owner said it is looking at all options, including selling to a competitor.
In a statement Paradis portrayed the government’s moves as a way of putting consumers first in federal telecom policy. “Canadian families work hard for their money, and our government wants them to keep more of it," he said. "Through better use of existing cellphone towers and by taking action to promote at least four wireless providers in every region of the country, our government is making it possible for all Canadians to have access to world-class wireless service they can afford, no matter where they live."