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CRTC rejects plea from small internet providers seeking wireless access

Feb 19th, 2016   /  A+ | a-

Do you think your cellphone bill is too high? Tough. It's going to stay that way thanks to a CRTC decision that nixes the possibility of dozens of new wireless carriers springing up, consumer advocates say. The regulator on Thursday denied an appeal from a group of small internet providers to mandate what are called Mobile Virtual Network Operators. Such businesses would rent the networks of larger telecom companies at set rates to provide alternative wireless services, likely at lower prices. This group of 30 or so operators, collectively known as the Canadian Network Operators Consortium, argued that regulated MVNOs — and the extra competition they would bring — would be the best way to lower Canadian cellphone bills, which are among the highest in the world. But the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission stuck to its original decision, made last year, that forcing such access would act as a disincentive for companies that have built their own networks, such as Bell, Rogers, Telus and Wind, to further invest.

Small providers are still free to negotiate MVNO deals if they can, but consumer advocates say network owners have few incentives to grant them access at reasonable rates, which is why no cheaper, competitive alternatives currently exist. "I don't know where these guys can go with this one," says John Lawford, executive director of the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre, referring to the small providers. "There's not much prospect for the short term."

High rates, high profit

Canadians typically pay about $46 US per month for wireless service, or nearly double the $25 average among 22 developed nations, according to a 2015 report from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Canadian wireless carriers are also exceptionally profitable, and ranked near the top of the survey in earnings. They also rank well internationally when it comes to network quality, suggested a recent report from U.K.-based analysis firm OpenSignal. The Big Three typically rank high in speeds and coverage. The previous Conservative government fought an at-times vocal war against the big carriers, and attempted to inject new competition into the market through special auctions of wireless spectrum. more

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