MP Clement heralds more choice, competitive prices for wireless services
March 15, 2012
March 15, 2012, OTTAWA - Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement has high praise for an announcement yesterday from Industry Minister Christian Paradis taking action to provide Canadian families with more choices at low prices for wireless services, including specific measures to support rural areas.
“I have advocated on behalf of the people of Parry Sound-Muskoka for improved broadband and wireless services, and while we have made significant strides, today’s announcement marks another step toward improving services, particularly for those in rural areas,” said MP Clement.
MP Clement added that the Conservative Government understands that Parry Sounders and Muskokans work hard for their money. They want their government to make decisions that will help them keep more of it, while at the same time improving access to first-class services.
“This announcement will open up rural areas to having equal access to wireless services, and we will also be improving and extending the government’s policy on roaming and tower sharing to further support competition. This will also have benefits in rural and more remote areas,” said MP Clement.
What was announced:
- The Telecommunications Act will be amended to lift foreign investment restrictions for telecom companies that hold less than a 10 percent share of the total Canadian telecommunications market. This will help telecom companies with a smaller market share access the capital they need to grow and compete.
- The government will be applying caps in the upcoming spectrum auctions to enable both new wireless competitors and incumbent carriers to have access to the spectrum up for auction.
- The government will apply specific measures in the 700 MHz auction to see that rural Canadians will have access to the same advanced services as everyone else.
- The government will improve and extend the government’s policy on roaming and tower sharing to further support competition and improve transparency and information sharing to facilitate agreements between companies to slow the proliferation of new cellphone towers.
- We also announced that a portion of spectrum will be reserved for public safety users such as police and firefighters across Canada.
1. Policy objectives
The Harper Government is committed to ensure the timely availability of world-class wireless services at low prices for Canadian families, including those in rural areas.
Wireless telecommunications, and the radio frequency spectrum that enables it, are fundamental to world-class digital infrastructure, a key pillar of Canada’s digital economy.
In developing the measures announced today, the Harper Government was guided by three objectives:
- Sustained competition in wireless telecommunications services;
- Robust investment and innovation in this sector, and;
- Availability of advanced services for all Canadians, including those in rural areas, in a timely manner.
Decisions have also been guided by the broad principle of reliance on market forces to the maximum extent possible.
What is spectrum and what is up for auction?
Spectrum is necessary for wireless communication. It is a finite public resource managed by the Government of Canada, and made available through the issuance of licences. It is divided into frequency bands and allocated to services such as broadcasting, satellite, and mobile services.
The Harper Government is making additional spectrum available for mobile services to help meet the rapidly growing demand for high-speed wireless services. This includes the 700 MHz spectrum band, which the Government has designated for mobile services following the transition of analogue over-the-air television broadcasting signals to digital signals. This is only the second time such low-frequency spectrum, especially desirable due to its ability to propagate long distances and penetrate buildings, has been made available for commercial wireless use. The Government will also be auctioning 2500 MHz spectrum, which will further enable service providers to meet the rapidly growing demand for data by consumers and businesses.
This spectrum will allow telecom companies to bring the latest 4G LTE mobile networks to Canadian consumers and businesses, including those in rural areas. This will mean Canadians will have access to the fastest mobile speeds and latest devices, such as the newest iPad, Playbook and smartphones. They will have access to high-definition video and video-conference over mobile networks. Canadians will benefit from greater access to e-health applications and intelligent transport and other advanced applications. This will result in improved connectivity for consumers, increased business productivity and enhanced safety for Canadians.
Developments since 2008
The Canadian wireless landscape has changed significantly since the 2008 auctioning of Advanced Wireless Services spectrum. At that time, the government set aside spectrum for new entrants and implemented other policies to support new competitors. New entrants have since made large investments to launch services and are providing greater choice to Canadian consumers. These new entrants currently serve over 1 million Canadians. At the same time, Canadian incumbent wireless providers continued to invest in their networks. Over 98% of Canadians now have access to high-speed wireless services. Average Canadian mobile wireless prices have fallen by more than 10% since 2008.
This same time period has also seen an explosive growth in demand for high-speed mobile services. Globally, the use of smart phones, tablets and other data-intensive devices has resulted in mobile data use that has tripled each year since 2008. In Canada, 8 million Canadians already own a smart phone, and that number is growing rapidly. This growth is putting unprecedented demands on mobile networks.
Consultations and considerations
In developing its policies, the Government considered the stakeholder views provided during multiple public consultations. These include consultations on both the 700 MHz and 2500 MHz spectrum auctions, and on options for the reform of foreign investment restrictions. In consultations, respondents expressed a range of views. For example, all stakeholders agreed on the importance of spectrum to meet growing demand and improve services. However, views diverged on whether government action was necessary to continue to promote competition. Most incumbent wireless providers argued that no special auction measures and no changes to foreign investment restrictions were required. These companies expressed a need for additional spectrum in order to meet rapidly increasing demand for data, and to deploy next-generation services to rural areas. New wireless entrants cited their limited access to spectrum and called for rules that reserved spectrum for them in upcoming auctions. These companies highlighted the fact that incumbents control about 85% of mobile spectrum holdings, and all of the low-frequency spectrum. New entrants also pointed to limits on their ability to attract capital and many called for relaxation of Canada’s foreign investment restrictions in the telecommunications sector.
Many governments are supporting competition in mobile telecommunications services through auction rules and other requirements. For example, France, Germany, Italy and the U.K. have adopted spectrum auction caps, which limit the amount of spectrum that a company can acquire. These countries also require spectrum holders to deploy to rural areas within a certain timeframe.
3. Summary of decisions
Reform of foreign investment restrictions under the Telecommunications Act
The Government will amend the Telecommunications Act to exempt telecommunications companies with less than 10% of total telecommunications Canadian market revenue from foreign investment restrictions in that Act. This change will promote competition by improving access to capital. In order to encourage long-term investment in Canada’s telecommunications industry, companies that are successful in growing their market shares in excess of 10% of total Canadian telecommunications market revenues other than by way of merger or acquisitions, will continue to be exempt from the restrictions. Restrictions on foreign ownership under the Broadcasting Act would remain for all companies with broadcasting distribution activities. As is the case with any direct foreign investment, the provisions of the Investment Canada Act will continue to apply.
Spectrum caps in upcoming 700 MHz and 2500 MHz auctions
The Government will apply caps in the upcoming spectrum auctions that will enable four or more service providers in each region to obtain spectrum in both the 700 MHz and 2500 MHz bands. In the case of the 700 MHz spectrum, a limit on prime spectrum will be imposed on incumbents, which, like a set-aside, will effectively reserve prime spectrum for new entrants and regional providers. Unlike a set-aside, the measures will not require Industry Canada to identify specific blocks of spectrum, allowing companies to bid according to their business plans.
The Government plans to hold the 700 MHz auction in the first half of 2013, to be followed by the 2500 MHz auction within a year. It is the government’s expectation that companies will begin rolling out network coverage – and delivering benefits to Canadians – in a timely fashion after acquiring this new spectrum.
Spectrum licence obligations
The Government will require companies having access to two or more blocks of paired spectrum in the 700 MHz band, through auction licences or through spectrum sharing, to cover 90% of the population of their current high-speed population coverage within five years, and 97% within seven years of licensing. The obligations imposed on spectrum licensees are to support the deployment of next-generation services to rural Canadians in a timely fashion. In addition, general roll-out requirements will be applied to both the 700 and 2500 MHz bands, as in previous auctions, requiring between 20% and 50% population coverage, depending on the region, within 10 years.
Roaming allows subscribers to use services from another service provider when travelling outside of the coverage of their service provider’s network. In 2008, as part of the Government’s policies to encourage new competition in the wireless sector, Industry Canada required all carriers to offer roaming, including some provisions that were only available to new entrant service providers. These requirements were put in place for 5 years and will begin to expire in 2013. In order to support competition and continued access to roaming for customers of new entrants, Industry Canada intends to improve and extend these roaming policies through the following:
- Extending roaming provisions indefinitely and expanding them to all carriers; and
- Shortening the timelines for initiation of arbitration and the arbitration process between companies negotiating roaming agreements.
Antenna tower sharing
In 2008, Industry Canada also mandated antenna tower and site sharing. This policy was introduced to reduce the proliferation of antenna towers, and to facilitate the entry of new competition into the wireless market. In order to further advance these objectives, Industry Canada is proposing changes to improve the current tower sharing policies including:
- Requiring carriers to make available basic information on all towers to improve transparency and expedite the sharing process; and,
- Shortening the timelines for initiation of arbitration and the arbitration process.
Stakeholder input will be sought on the proposed changes to roaming and tower sharing policies.
Designating spectrum for public safety
The public safety community has an increasing need for access to mobile broadband applications, and has unique requirements for reliable coverage, including in underground areas and within buildings. The Government is designating spectrum in the 700 MHz band for public safety broadband use. This follows a similar designation in the U.S., and will allow for cross-border interoperability between public safety agencies. Industry Canada also consulted on the possible designation of an additional block for public safety broadband use. A decision on this block will be made following a review of the recent U.S. decision on the matter and further consultation.
Canadians have recently benefitted from greater competition, lower prices and increased choice in wireless telecommunications services. This has been the result of factors including measures introduced by the Government in 2008 to support the entry of new competitors. The measures announced today build on these actions, supporting competition and robust investment in the sector, and the availability of advanced wireless services in rural areas.
 Price comparison study conducted for the CRTC in April 2011 by Wall Communications Inc. Based on an average of three monthly usage baskets inHalifax,Montreal,Toronto,Regina andVancouver.
 Cisco Visual Networking Index: GlobalMobile Data Traffic Forecast Update 2010-2015