Is Industry Minister James Moore out of wireless tricks?
With the imminent unveiling on Friday of Canada’s long-overdue digital strategy – titled Digital Canada 150 – it’s perhaps timely to take a look at how the federal government has fared in its most visible – and often volatile – technology-oriented policy: wireless. Since the declaration in 2007 by then-Industry Minister Jim Prentice that the Canadian wireless market suffered from too high prices and too little choice, the Conservatives have effectively waged war on the country’s three big incumbents, Bell, Rogers and Telus.
Its main weapon in this battle was spectrum, or the public airwaves that all wireless carriers need in order to operate. In 2008, the government held a spectrum auction that blocked off 40 per cent of these airwaves for new companies, which ultimately gave rise to the likes of Wind, Mobilicity and Public Mobile, as well as new wireless operations from cable companies Videotron and Eastlink. Six years later, the cable companies are doing well, but the other three are either dead or on their way to the grave.
Consumers apparently reaped the benefits over that time, with one government-funded study finding that prices had generally gone down nearly 20 per cent thanks to all the new competition. Even if subscribers didn’t sign up with any of the new carriers, the very presence of these companies in the market forced the Big Three to moderate or lower their prices. But, with competition now ebbing, the status quo – and inevitably continual price hikes – is re-establishing itself once again. Here’s how things look, according to the latest figures from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Wireless Matrix, otherwise known as the industry’s bible:
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