Don’t shoot the messenger

The Wire Report received some complaints this week because of a story we did on a report from the Montreal Economic Institute.

The paper (subscribers only) was called The State of Competition in Canada’s Telecommunications Industry, which seems like the kind of thing we would typically be interested in. The main points of this report were that the government’s interventions in the wireless market in recent years, made in hopes of creating the conditions for a fourth major operator in every region in the country, have been unnecessary and unsuccessful.

The report’s authors, Martin Masse and Paul Beaudry, made the argument that Canadians don’t have it so bad, relatively speaking, in terms of the quality and pricing for the wireless services that are available when compared to other countries including those in the European Union.

They added that having a fourth player in every market would not necessarily make the industry more competitive. The report also questioned whether the market is primed for more than three main players, given that of the three new entrants that came about as a result of 2008 AWS spectrum auction, Public Mobile has been bought by Telus Corp., Mobilicity is in bankruptcy protection and Wind Mobile’s majority owner, VimpelCom Ltd., seems ready to abandon it. As well, the authors argue that if there was that much of a market for more wireless providers, Shaw Communications Inc. and/or U.S. giant Verizon Communications Inc. would have been all over it.

Such arguments are reasonable, yet not indisputable. Nonetheless, we figured that anyone with an interest in the wireless industry would want to know what some researchers had to say about it. We included some comments from a few people that didn’t agree with the report’s positions, such as Iain Grant from the SeaBoard Group and, not surprisingly, Industry Minister James Moore’s press secretary. We make every effort to ensure our stories are fair and that the appropriate views are represented.

Still, some readers questioned whether we should have even reported on this paper. One person took issue with the fact that this particular research was covered by The Wire Report while a study from March of this year from the Canadian Media Concentration Project, called Mobile Wireless in Canada: Recognizing the Problems and Approaching Solutions, was not.

I can’t say we’re perfect, but before it was brought to my attention this week, I had no recollection of such a report being released in March. Its authors did not pitch it to us directly, which might have made a difference. It’s worth noting that this report is identified as the final version of a first draft that came out in November, which we did cover.

Obviously, this group has a very different view on the state of competition in Canada’s wireless sector than authors at the Montreal Economic Institute. The former, in its report, even talks about a fourth player being the “Holy Grail.” In case we didn’t give this paper its due, we encourage all those with an interest in telecom to read it first-hand (no subscription necessary).

But let’s not kid ourselves into pretending that competition in Canada’s wireless sector is a black-and-white issue and that whatever underlying problems the industry might have can be easily fixed. When we see something that lends itself to the debate, we bring it to readers’ attention and assume they will make up their own minds whether they agree or not.

We realize our subscriber base represents an array of opinions on this and many other matters. For all substantial reports, we will try our best to present to you representations of multiple sides of the issues.

Derek Abma is editor of The Wire Report. He can be reached at dabma@thewirereport.ca.

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