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Will the Latest Spectrum Auction Result in More Wireless Choices for Canada

March 7, 2015 - Written By Cory McNutt

The wireless mobile scene in Canada is always in a state of constant motion and change.  The Big Three carriers – Rogers, Bell and TELUS – control 75-percent of the available spectrum and a whopping 90-percent of the wireless market.  This creates a constant battle for Industry Minister James Moore that has made it his mission to create more competition, and he intends to do this by allowing one of the newer entrants to grow into a fourth larger carrier.

The results from the latest AWS-3 auction were revealed on March 6 and the government’s proactive spectrum rules did what Moore hoped for – the smaller carriers, especially WIND Mobile, came away with the infrastructure they need to expand their services.  However, owning the spectrum and using it is an entirely different subject and one that causes its own set of problems and controversy.  WIND Mobile grew its spectrum by 180-percent in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, in no small part because of the ‘proactive’ rules announced by Moore last July.  Moore set aside one 30MHz block of AWS-3 spectrum that only the newer entrants with less than a 10-percent national market share and no more than 20-percent of the market share of the provincial/territorial could bid – this kept the Big Three out of that bidding.

The AWS-3 wireless spectrum is needed in order to deliver quality, next-generation wireless services such as fast LTE speeds and exactly what the non-incumbent cell phone companies need to keep pace and attract new subscribers.  According to Industry Canada, Canada’s new wireless competitors increased their spectrum holdings by 107-percent on average.  While the Big Three still control 75-percent of the available spectrum, that is down from the unheard of 98-percent they controlled in 2006.  It is Moore’s hope that the outcome of this latest auction will help balance the scales for WIND Mobile and other smaller telecoms when it comes to offering faster data services.

OpenMedia, a community-based organization that strives to safeguard an open Internet, sees the results of this auction as positive news in improving the Canadian wireless choices, but cautions that more action must be taken.  Canadians still pay some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for wireless internet services and until the Big Three stop hoarding their spectrum and the smaller entrants can afford to expand their networks, much work still needs to be done.

OpenMedia.ca Executive Director Steve Anderson says, “Minister Moore has listened to Canadians and we’re beginning to see the positive outcome with a new cell provider now better able to take on the Big Three and provides great wireless choice for Canadians.  It’s past time for Canada’s large Telecoms to stop squatting on vital digital assets.  I hope this is just the beginning and that we’ll see more action along the lines of what leading experts and innovators called for in a letter to Minister Moore last year.  We’ll also be looking for Mr. Moore to announce how he’ll be spending the $2.11 billion raised off of these public spectrum assets.  These funds should obviously be fully invested in ensuring all Canadians enjoy world class broadband access.”

What do you think about the wireless landscape in Canada?  Is the government doing enough to increase competition and lower pricing?  Please hook up with us on our Google+ Page and let us know your thoughts…as always, we would love to hear from you.