Time to take a deep breath?

Industry Minister James Moore issued a statement yesterday, indicating that the government intends to stay the course on Canada’s wireless policy.

Our Government’s telecommunications policy was not created overnight. It is the result of a vigorous consultation that started in 2008 [sic] and continues today. All players – industry, consumer groups and everyday Canadians – contributed to this policy.

The consultation for the wireless sector policy that introduced a new entrant set-aside for AWS was launched in 2007. For more than 6 years, we have seen measures introduced, intervening in the marketplace.

Let’s look at the recent history of regulatory actions imposed on the wireless market in Canada. Remember, Canada has multiple agencies that regulate the sector; both Industry Canada and the CRTC have been active in introducing measures. [The Telecom Policy Review Panel made recommendations regarding a restructuring of the sector’s regulatory institutions in its 2006 report – pdf]

When Canada’s 700 MHz policy was released in March 2012, it sought to enhance measures to encourage competition in the wireless sector. The policy framework decision was released nearly a year and a half ago, 15 months before the CRTC’s Wireless Code of Conduct decision. The Wireless Code consultation was launched in October 2012, following an investigation by the CRTC “to consider whether the conditions in the Canadian wireless market have changed sufficiently to warrant Commission intervention with respect to retail wireless services”.

In its decision, released in October 2012, the CRTC determined:

that the conditions for forbearance have not changed sufficiently to require the Commission to regulate rates or interfere in the competitiveness of the retail mobile wireless voice and data services market.

Rate regulation was not required, nor was the CRTC moved to “interfere in the competitiveness” of the retail mobile wireless voice and data business. The consultation that led to this decision was launched in April 2012.

In the meantime, on the other side of the river, Industry Canada, made some additional pronouncements in March and June of 2013.

There have been a lot of forces acting on the wireless sector in the past year and a half; forces acting without the guidance of a stated national digital strategy. As we have pointed out in opening remarks at The Canadian Telecom Summit for many of the past events, nothing can change the profitability of the telecommunications sector faster than a pen stroke in Ottawa.

I pointed to a CNBC clip yesterday where analysts describe how European networks have lagged in deploying advanced technologies because of their perceived regulatory deterrents.

Maybe it is time to take a deep breath and examine all of the changes that have already been imposed on the wireless industry, many of which have not yet come into force. Perhaps the Minister of Industry could ask the Competition Bureau to review its submission to the CRTC’s Wireless Code proceeding, examine the state of the regulatory measures that are now in place for the wireless sector, and make recommendations for moving forward.

As I wrote yesterday, we need thoughtful, evidence-based decision making to guide the ongoing development of a sector that is so critical for Canada’s success in a global digital economy.

Maybe it is time to present the long overdue national digital strategy.

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