CRTC and Domestic Roaming: Some Notable Reactions Plus My Two Cents

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais
(CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais.)

Yesterday the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced on their website that they would be “taking a closer look” at wholesale roaming rates — that is, what our Big Three carriers charge the little guys for access to their networks when necessary.

Smarter people than me have already chimed in on this news, so I’ll highlight their fine work first, then add my own thoughts at the end.

Let’s get to it…

Prologue

In an interesting coincidence Elliot Noss, the CEO of Ting, wrote a blog post about mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) on Wednesday. If you didn’t know, Ting’s business is buying wholesale mobile service from U.S. carriers — Sprint at the moment — then reselling it at more affordable rates.

Anyway, his post was a response to another blog post written by Peter Nowak, about how wholesale wireless not being a viable solution for Canada. Confused yet?

TL;DR Nowak thinks that wholesale wireless won’t work here. Noss thinks it will.

And both posts together make for an excellent backgrounder on this subject. While you’re at it, you can also read my first-ever front page post here on the subject of Ting

Cue The Trumpets

Yesterday at 4pm Eastern the CRTC announcement went live:

“We are concerned that some wireless companies may be making it unfairly difficult for Canadian providers that do not operate a national network to compete in the marketplace,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the CRTC. “We have the authority to ensure that companies do not give themselves an unfair competitive advantage. This includes charging wholesale wireless roaming rates that are unjustly discriminatory or by insisting on unduly restrictive terms and conditions. If we find that this is happening in the market, we will act to rectify the situation.”

Boom. It’s on.

Now That’s Klass

Meanwhile, Ben Klass — yup, that Ben Klass — had been gathering his own thoughts on domestic roaming. A post on his blog, published that same day, was quickly updated to include the CRTC announcement. It’s a lengthy read but a good one. Here’s a taste to get you started:

Imagine if TekSavvy didn’t have recourse to complain to the regulator about unfair treatment (It’s not just Teksavvy, it’s hundreds of independent Canadian businesses who would disappear overnight without TPIA* and GAS/WHSAS**). That’s what we’ve got in wireless. Most MVNOs and new entrants who’ve made a go at it have simply given up or been bought out.

*TPIA = Third Party ISP Access
**WHSAS = Wholesale High Speed Access Services

The GIF and Mail

This was entirely unexpected. In the glut of reactions to the CRTC news from mainstream media came an article from the Globe and Mail, eloquently summing up the current state of affairs in two GIFs:

Globe and Mail: Domestic Roaming Globe and Mail: Roaming Rates

You can read the accompanying text here but honestly, the graphics say it all. Does the Globe have a Tumblr? Because it should…

My Two Cents

Actions speak louder than words, but I think that the strong language in the CRTC’s announcement is at least a good start. There is one bit that I find troubling, though:

The CRTC is seeking comments on this situation, as well as possible solutions should it find that large wireless service providers are placing their Canadian competitors at an unfair competitive disadvantage. Comments must be submitted by January 29, 2014.

Is this to be another public consultation, then? We’ve been there before, with questionable results

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