CRTC of ‘preliminary view’ that Big 3 may be required to share wireless networks


TORONTO — The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is indicating that the country’s three dominant wireless carriers may be required to provide their smaller competitors with easier access to their national networks.

The CRTC’s message this week comes just days after the Trudeau government signalled it will replace a 2006 policy that puts more emphasis on infrastructure investments than on consumer affordability.

The federal telecom regulator says it has officially begun its long-promised review of Canada’s mobile wireless market with the “preliminary view” that there should be more opportunity for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).

Supporters of MVNOs — which pay for wholesale access to networks where they haven’t installed their own facilities — argue prices for wireless services will fall by increasing competition.

However, wholesale resellers of wireless and internet services have been at a disadvantage in CRTC decisions because of the emphasis on investments in network facilities and the reliance on “market forces” to determine pricing.

The CRTC’s review of the wireless sector — which was already planned to begin this year — apparently begins with the view that smaller operators need some level of guaranteed ability to connect with the bigger networks.

The CRTC say it’s seeking public comment about whether MVNOs “should have mandated access to the networks of the national wireless providers (Bell Mobility, Rogers and Telus) until they are able to establish themselves in the market.

It’s also looking at whether regulatory measures are needed to facilitate the deployment of 5G wireless networks, which are expected to become the next major advance in telecommunications over the next decade.

“While the wireless industry has grown and evolved over the last few years, progress has been slow in certain areas,” CRTC chairman Ian Scott said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

“We want to ensure that all Canadians benefit from a robust and competitive mobile wireless market that provides a choice of affordable and innovative services.”

Scott’s statement follows statements from Navdeep Bains, the minister responsible for telecommunications, who said Tuesday that he had begun a months-long process to give the CRTC an new policy directive.

“We are ensuring that telecommunications policy will be made through a consumer-first lens to ensure Canadians have access to quality services at more affordable prices,” Bains said.

Bains, who has been minister of innovation, science and economic development since the early days of the Trudeau government, continued to hold that portfolio after a mini cabinet shuffle announced Friday.

Competition is already one of the CRTC’s long-standing criteria, as are consumer interests and innovation.

However, the current policy — established under the Harper Conservative government while Maxime Bernier was the minister responsible for telecommunications — sets a different order of priorities for the CRTC to meet.

Under Bernier — who split with the Conservatives last fall and now leads the People’s Party of Canada — the Harper government instructed the CRTC to “rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible” and to interfere “to the minimum extent necessary” to meet overall objectives.

The policy also says the CRTC should ensure “technological and competitive neutrality” when dealing with carrier interconnections and “not to artificially favour either Canadian carriers or resellers.”

However, various studies and consumer anecdotes have said Canadians pay significantly higher prices for many telecommunications services compared with consumers in other countries.


Companies in this story: (TSX:BCE, TSX:RCI.B, TSX:T)

David Paddon, The Canadian Press


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