Improving outcomes from Canada’s spectrum policy

Over the past few years, I have discussed spectrum policy a number of times (likely driving readership down). Spectrum policy can be one of those deeply technical, painfully boring areas reserved for a specialized kind of regulatory technologists. But spectrum policy has the opportunity to improve outcomes for Canadians, if we get the policy right.

Spectrum can enable advanced broadband connectivity for Canadians in urban and in rural areas, for mobile and fixed applications.

Unfortunately, spectrum policy in Canada has seemed to singularly focus on stimulating mobile competition, without sufficient focus on other policy objectives. As a result, Canada may be missing the opportunity to leverage some capabilities that emerge from wideband 5G in a rural setting.

Let’s take a quick look at some of my posts over the past two years:

  • Paying for spectrum policy • January 20, 2020
    An economist calculates that Canadians’ mobile bills include a hidden tax of 12-16% to cover the fees paid by carriers to the government for spectrum
  • An insatiable need for spectrum • August 13, 2020
    Describing the need for the government to press forward more aggressively with the release of more spectrum.
  • 5G spectrum policy drives economic growth • November 20, 2020
    Looking at a study from the GSMA describing expected economic benefits to Canada to be derived from the transition to fifth generation mobile technologies.
  • Spectrum trafficking • May 4, 2021
    Commenting on how speculating in spectrum can be extremely profitable for some Canadian license holders.
  • Spectrum scarcity driving up wireless costs • August 3, 2021
    Is Canada’s approach to spectrum policy driving up the costs of wireless services?
  • Spectrum policy and the digital divide • September 27, 2021
    Can changes to spectrum policy help Canada become more effective in bridging the digital divide?

Can we do better with Canada’s spectrum policy?

Can we ensure competitive wireless operators have access to sufficient spectrum to serve their customers while restricting those who squat on spectrum, denying others from offering important connectivity for Canadians in rural and remote areas?

Recent articles in have described failures by Canada’s Public Safety community to deploy 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band that was assigned in 2017 [see: “Resource, leadership challenges flagged in discussion about public safety broadband network” and “The wait continues for Canada’s public safety broadband network”]. For more than a decade, Public Safety officials discussed governance under a committee called CITIG – the Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group – discussing how to get spectrum assigned and deployed. The first 10 MHz was assigned to Public Safety in 2012. By 2015, I was already writing that the government was moving too slowly.

Should “use it or lose it” rules be applied equally to the public sector, like the Public Safety network?

Can we prevent or limit arbitrage and speculation in spectrum that drives up the cost of service for all?

These are the kinds of questions that are at stake in the government’s “Consultation on a Policy and Licensing Framework for Spectrum in the 3800 MHz Band”, another key spectrum band for 5G services.

At a recent event hosted by The Logic (“Connecting Canada—5G, spectrum policy and closing the digital divide”), a TELUS executive suggested that aspects of Canada’s digital divide are unintended consequences of our spectrum policy.

How do we ensure that spectrum holders deploy the spectrum assets upon which some are squatting?

How do we ensure operators have sufficient spectrum to deploy world class fixed and mobile broadband services to Canadians in urban and rural settings?

Comments on Canada’s consultation on the spectrum policy for the 3800 MHz band are due February 15. Reply comments are due March 7.

1 thought on “Improving outcomes from Canada’s spectrum policy”

  1. Michael Connolly

    Unfortunately the Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada (DGTP-001-07) issued in June 2007 has been largely ignored and abandoned in favour of using spectrum regulation to pursue a political agenda. Ironically its Policy Objective and Enabling Guidelines would have have served well over the intervening period and indeed would be entirely applicable today.

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