Mark Goldberg

The Canadian Telecom Summit

The Canadian Telecom Summit

Fox Group Dispatch

In search of greener pastures

It is almost a defining characteristic for Canadians to distinguish ourselves from our neighbours to the south. The untrained ear may think we speak English somewhat similarly, but Canadians emphatically define ourselves as “not American” while we roll-up-the-rim-to-win.

That doesn’t keep us from wishing we had American-style prices for gasoline, milk, eggs, airfares, clothing and alcohol. It is springtime, and it is natural for us to look wistfully at greener grass growing on the other side of the border. And we can add to the list, unlimited mobile data plans.

So the City Council for Toronto recently passed a motion calling for the CRTC to mandate “reasonably priced unlimited data packages” as an option:

City Council direct the City Manager to convey to the Commissioner of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission the request that major telecommunications providers across Canada be required, as part of their licensing arrangements, to provide consumers with options for reasonably priced unlimited data packages that would be part of the cellular packages they offer.

This motion was passed just a few weeks after that same city council was unable to balance its own budget without increasing taxes and adding additional user fees. Leaving aside the issue of CRTC “licensing arrangements” (and retail pricing forbearance), we might consider whether increased regulation is the best way to increase price competition.

I have frequently written about looking at greener grass elsewhere. We seem to lose sight of how many of these outcomes emerge. US unlimited data plans were not introduced due to regulation, but rather in response to signals of loosening regulation from the new FCC chair, Ajit Pai.

I have written before about the cost of regulation in Canada [such as here and here]. Is it really reasonable for Toronto’s City Council to think we can regulate our way to “reasonably priced unlimited data packages”?

A recent paper by Roslyn Layton and Joseph Kane describes how Denmark “has pursued a largely laissez-faire approach to telecom regulation.”

Denmark has been praised as a broadband utopia, but observers often fail to understand the concrete decisions that helped create Danish telecommunications policy.

There is an official telecom policy direction requiring the CRTC to “rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible” and “when relying on regulation, use measures that are efficient and proportionate to their purpose and that interfere with the operation of competitive market forces to the minimum extent necessary.”

Still, a growing number of CRTC regulations (including regulating the internet) have served to reduce differentiation between service providers, such as with mobile video services (such as NFL Mobile).

Has increased regulation limited choice and reduced incentives for pricing as a competitive response? Is there another approach that could lead to improved outcomes – greener grass?

There are a couple panels at The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit [June 5-7, Toronto] that could examine this issue, among many, many more. The latest version of the brochure was updated today. Have you registered yet?

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