A woman holds two cellphones with the corporate logos of Rogers Communications and Shaw Communications in a photo illustration in Chelsea, Que., Monday March 29, 2021. A review of the proposed $26-billion purchase of Shaw Communications by Rogers Communications continues into its third day today in Ottawa before a committee of federal MPs. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Academics, smaller telecoms say Rogers shouldn’t be able to buy Freedom Mobile

Academics, smaller telecoms say Rogers shouldn’t be able to buy Freedom Mobile

TORONTO — Rogers Communications Inc. shouldn’t be allowed to buy Canada’s fourth-largest wireless service, Freedom Mobile, because it would undo attempts improve prices and services through competition, experts in telecommunications policy told MPs on Tuesday.

In a third day of hearings into the Rogers proposal to buy Shaw Communications Inc., which owns Freedom as well as Western Canada’s largest cable internet network, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist said regulators should require a spinoff of the wireless assets before approving the deal.

“While some seek to justify it or explain it away, the simple reality is that Canadians already pay some of the highest prices for wireless services in the world,” Geist said, echoing other opponents of the deal.

“If this merger is approved, the situation is likely to get worse. Indeed, when Rogers promises that it will not raise prices for Shaw Freedom Mobile customers for three years, it effectively signals that it will be raising them as soon as the clock runs out on that time.”

Shaw chief executive Brad Shaw and Rogers CEO Joe Natale told the same committee on March 29 that they’d be stronger competitors to Bell and Telus by combined their spending power and assets. That would allow an enlarged Rogers to reach more rural and underserved areas, they said.

Brad Shaw also said the company founded by his father J.R. Shaw just wasn’t big enough on its own to fund the enormous investments required to build fifth-generation wireless networks.

Under questioning from committee members, Geist — who holds the Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law — said the “most palatable” outcome would be to have Shaw and Freedom remain independent rivals to Canada’s biggest three biggest telecommunications companies (Rogers, Bell and Telus).

“Shaw is a viable, innovative competitor,” Geist said. “So taking them out of the market … is a loss ultimately for consumers.”

Ben Klass, a member of a research team studying ownership concentration in Canada’s telecom and media industries, said the government needs to stick with aiming for a fourth wireless carrier in every region.

Most of the new wireless competitors that emerged in 2008 and 2009 have been absorbed by the Big Three. Shaw bought the largest independent provider, Wind Mobile, rebranding it as Freedom after the 2016 purchase.

“What we’re left with is Freedom (in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.) Videotron in Quebec, Eastlink in the Maritime provinces,” Klass said.

“If this merger is allowed, it would be tantamount to the government’s admission that they’re no longer interested in supporting real competition in this space.”

The deal announced March 15 needs regulatory approval to go forward. Key officials, including the federal competition commissioner, are scheduled to address the committee on Wednesday.

The Competition Bureau may not be able to block a deal because of an unusual feature of Canadian law, said Robin Shaban, an economist and co-founder of Vivic Research.

The Competition Act contains what’s commonly known as the “efficiencies defence” — that can be used to justify a merger if it creates a more efficient business, Shaban said.

“Rogers and Shaw claimed in their press release that the transaction will create $1 billion in synergies, or efficiencies, per year. If their claim is truthful, then the Bureau may be unable to take any action to protect competition in telecommunications markets,” Shaban said.

A representative of the Competitive Network Operators of Canada said the CRTC could be a more effective guardian of competition and consumer prices if it chooses to force the Big Three to share their internet or wireless networks at a reasonable wholesale price.

“The CRTC currently has the tools for it,” said Geoff White, CNOC’s director of legal and regulatory affairs.

“The CRTC regulates this industry and has clear policy direction,” White added. “It just needs the government to stand behind it when it does make a decision.”

On Wednesday, the industry, science and technology committee will hear from CRTC chairman Ian Scott, Competition Commissioner Matthew Boswell and officials from the Department of Industry.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:RCI.B, TSX:SJR.B, TSX:QBR.B, TSX:BCE, TSX:T)

David Paddon, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read