Measuring competitiveness in telecommunications

You can’t measure competitiveness or competitive intensity simply by looking at prices or counting the number of competitors. Measuring competitiveness in the telecommunications industry can be complex and may involve multiple factors.

In a recent interview, the CEO of telecommunications supplier Ericsson said that Europe’s industry structure is “probably unsustainable”.

Börje Ekholm told CNBC, “I do believe Europe needs to consolidate.”

Mr. Ekholm said that in countries such as the US, China and India, consolidation had meant there were now just two or three operators nationwide. In Europe, he said there are “200 operators, pretty much four plus in almost every country. It is an industry structure that is probably unsustainable and that needs to be addressed.”

The issue is one of financial viability. “The big problem in Europe is really that our customers can simply not afford to build out the networks and I think that is going to hurt European competitiveness long term.”

As Ericsson’s CEO suggests, telecommunications is an economic enabler. Absent the macro economic conditions to encourage investment in networks, the overall competitiveness of the national economy can suffer. Protecting competition doesn’t mean protecting the number of competitors.

Once again, the words of previous Minister Navdeep Bains come to mind.

So our government understands that Canadians want three things from their telecom services.

  • Quality. Is the service fast enough to do what I want it to do?
  • Coverage. Is the service available where I want it to be?
  • and lastly, Price. Is this service affordable?

These three areas are clearly where providers need to compete and that’s why our Government is doing our part to promote competition and investment.

In “Quality, Coverage And Affordable Prices”, I wrote, “There is a difficult tension in these objectives, seeking increased investment while maintaining, if not improving, affordability.”

How we approach and achieve these 3 outcomes: quality, coverage, and price, is the way we should measure success in telecommunications competitiveness.

The CRTC has launched yet another consultation, saying “its current approach is not meeting its objective of encouraging more competition in the Internet services market.” Telecom Notice of Consultation (TNC) CRTC 2023-56: Review of the wholesale high-speed access service framework, starts off with an immediate (interim) reduction in existing wholesale rates “that reflects a 10% decrease in the costs of traffic-sensitive components”. Revised tariffs are due March 17.

The Commission invites comments on several issues, including its preliminary views that (i) the provision of aggregated wholesale HSA services should be mandated; (ii) access to fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) facilities should be provided over these services; and (iii) the provision of FTTP facilities over aggregated wholesale HSA services should be mandated on a temporary and expedited basis, until the Commission reaches a decision as to whether such access is to be provided indefinitely.

The first round of comments are due April 24.

I will have more comments on this proceeding over the coming weeks and months.

In the meantime, I’ll close with this observation (that I have cited previously). Dr. Christian Dippon has written, “Quite simply, a market cannot both be noncompetitive and offer some of the best mobile wireless services in the world.” The comment is as relevant for wireline as it is for wireless.

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