Recently, your editor was on his way to the coffee shop and noticed an ad for Yak Communications covering the entire body of an 18-wheeler truck. Their slogan, “I can’t believe it’s a phone company,” may be somewhat of an albatross, and I’m not referring its radio commercial that mimics a broadway musical
Yak is owned by Globalive Communications, and one of our cover stories for this issue was on Globalive Wireless finally getting its license for frequencies under the Advanced Wireless Spectrum auction. Because the Egyptian firm Orascom Telecom Holding SAE holds what it describes as “65 per cent indirect equity ownership” of Globalive, the firm faced intense scrutiny from the federal government, because you can’t operate a telecom carrier in Canada unless you’re controlled by Canadians.
If I were in charge of Globalive, I’d prefer that none of the bureaucrats in Ottawa believed I was running a phone company. The Telecommunications Act requires at least 80 per cent of voting shares of carriers be held by Canadians. Six years ago this month, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, recommended the foreign ownership limits be lifted.
But later that same year, the committee issued a report recommending the status quo. That happened under the Liberals, and when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives took over, his Telecommunication Policy Review Panel recommended a “phased” approach of lifting the ownership rules. The Industry Minister at the time, Maxime Bernier, who doesn’t have an excellent track record with reports, only said he would “carefully review the report.” Bernier later went on to have bigger problems with an unrelated report as Foreign Minister, and the latest initiative from the current minister, Tony Clement, is the Knowledge Infrastructure Program to subsidize construction at colleges and universities.
Allowing foreign ownership probably wouldn’t cost the government a cent, but could make it easier for companies like Globalive to raise the money they need to roll out services. Regardless of who gets wireless spectrum, new operators will still need money to install base stations, hire sales people and advertise on trucks. Whether the owners live in Toronto, New York or Cairo, they will still want a return on investment, but the more carriers there are, the more choices users will have.