Value, affordability and investment

I have frequently written about the regulatory policy tension in balancing quality, coverage and price for telecommunications services. These were key attributes at the foundation of the Canadian government’s policy statements over the past 5 or so years.

There has been an explicit recognition in Canadian policy that the public interest is multi-dimensional, seeking lower prices, while continuing to provide incentives for investment in new technologies and expanded coverage.

A recent blog post by CWTA uses a similar trilogy of terms: value; affordability; and, investment. “Canada’s wireless industry delivering greater value, affordability and investment” criticizes the level of attention “given to one-dimensional and misleading price comparison studies that paint an inaccurate picture of telecom prices and affordability in Canada” and concludes with:

Canada’s economic well-being, safety and quality of life depend on high-quality digital infrastructure. Making world-class telecommunications services available to all Canadians at affordable prices remains the focus of our industry.

No one is saying that Canada has the lowest prices in the world, but contrary to what some would have us believe, Canadian telecom prices are not the most expensive in the world and Canada is not an outlier when it comes to prices. Comparing prices to other countries without factoring in differences in average income levels, quality of service, and cost structures produces misleading results. And as I have written recently, price and affordability are not the same.

As someone who pays bills each month, I too would like lower prices, just as I do for housing, gas, water, electricity, milk, chicken, eggs and everything else. But I also want fast mobile broadband when I am in the suburbs and rural parts of the country. That takes a balance of the various factors that make up the public interest, not just looking at price.

In May, I wrote about an Opensignal report indicating “that Canada’s mobile customers put a value on quality, and will migrate between service providers based on their mobile network experience.”

I had a multi-part Twitter thread on that theme:

Prices are declining, consumers get more data included in plans and at far faster speeds. Aided by regulatory certainty, investments are being accelerated by carriers, expanding the reach and coverage of wireline and wireless networks, both fixed and mobile. Advanced technologies, such as 5G and fibre to the home are not just for Canadians in urban centres, but also in rural and remote regions. More Canadians are signing up for mobile and fixed services every month, evidence of people are finding plans that suit their budgets.

As I wrote last week, we need to do more work to understand and develop solutions for the factors that are inhibiting adoption by those Canadians who have access but have not yet subscribed. That is a different challenge from the industry focus on delivering greater value, affordability and investment.

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