CRTC of ‘preliminary view’ that Big 3 may be required to share wireless networks

TORONTO — The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is indicating that the country’s three dominant wireless carriers may be required to provide smaller competitors with easier access to their national networks.

The CRTC’s message this week comes just days after the Trudeau government signalled it will replace a 2006 policy that puts more emphasis on infrastructure investments and “market forces” than on regulation or consumer affordability.

The federal telecom regulator said Thursday it has officially begun its long-promised review of Canada’s mobile wireless market with the “preliminary view” that there should be more opportunity for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).

The CRTC — which promised last year that it would begin a major review of wholesale wireless rates and access in 2019 — is apparently suggesting that smaller operators need a guarantee they can connect with the bigger networks.

Supporters of MVNOs — which pay for wholesale access to wireless networks where they haven’t installed their own facilities — argue that consumer prices will fall if the large carriers face more competition.

However, wholesale resellers — whether offering wireless, internet or phone services — have been at a disadvantage in Canada because of the regulatory emphasis on investments in networks and reliance on “market forces” to set prices.

Smaller network operators have complained that — when there are only three companies with national wireless networks and they are large enough to dictate prices — it’s too expensive for smaller companies to enter the competition.

Matt Stein, chairman of the Canadian Network Operators Consortium of internet providers, said Friday that “we’ve … been prevented from offering mobile phone services because of the lack of regulation that enables us to do so.”

“I would say, with the events of this week behind us, that’s clearly set to change.”

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