To state the obvious, there is some bad blood right now between the federal government and telecommunications companies.
While both have made efforts to get the public (and in some cases, the courts) on their side, a more cooperative approach — while making a consumers a full partner in decisions on how the industry proceeds — is the best way for Canada to get the communications system it needs and deserves in this information age.
On the surface, it might appear — and not by accident — that the government and its various branches, like the CRTC, are trying to protect Canadian consumers from the mighty telecom firms that control more than a fair share of the marketplace, particularly in the area of wireless services.
Just this week, the CRTC announced it will look into how roaming fees (subscribers only) are set domestically, and will consult — again — on the state of competition in the wireless market.
That follows a fact-finding mission announced in August and then a task force announced in October, both dealing with roaming rates, which seemed to be lockstep with the government’s throne speech in October that took aim at domestic roaming costs.
And we can’t forget the government’s perceived lobbying to get U.S. giant Verizon Communications Inc. into the Canadian wireless market and the resulting public relations campaign waged against the government by Canadian carriers BCE Inc., Telus Corp. and Rogers Communications Inc.
Not only have they been fighting for the hearts and minds of the public, but Telus has been in court challenging the industry minster’s right to, for one thing, restrict the incumbents from buying smaller wireless firms after five-year moratoriums on buying their spectrum licences expire, and also to set the rules on what companies can bid on what spectrum in the 700 MHz auction in January.
I’ve talked to a few executives from incumbent wireless firms lately who feel they’ve become an easy and convenient political target for the Conservative government, which they say is actually the Goliath in this fight but trying to play the role of David.
Perhaps there could be more competition in the wireless market. Still, some wonder how the government came up with this idea there should be four major players in every region, as opposed to three. Some will say when you look at the troubles encountered by Wind Mobile, Mobilicity and Public Mobile since the 2008 spectrum auction gave them life, the market itself has shown how many major wireless carriers it can support.
The government, however, would say that they must be vigilant to ensure that incumbent wireless companies are not using their inherent advantages unfairly to protect their turf.
One of the industry players I talked to about this matter said that for all the bluster coming from the government on wireless issues, there is next to no communication between the two sides, and that’s not because the telecoms aren’t interested in talking.
On the other hand, one has to wonder whether going to court, just weeks ahead of the spectrum auction — as Telus has done — to argue that only a full cabinet, not just one minister, can make decisions about limiting the spectrum certain wireless firms can buy gets anyone anywhere. Even if this legal argument is sound, the best Telus can hope for is some kind of a delay in the auction process, which would not only hurt Telus itself, since it needs more spectrum to satisfy consumer demands, but also aggravate the tech-hungry public it needs to make its business viable.
There’s been a lot of bickering between government and industry on wireless issues. It’s time for everyone to take a step back, consider the objectives of other players while not categorizing them as adversaries by default, and compromise in a way that’s best for the industry and the country as a whole.