POLITICS

Throne speech led to uncertainty, confusion in telecom, says industry head

10/28/2013 03:17 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
TORONTO - Ottawa's recent promise to provide Canadians and telecom companies with more clarity about their wireless bills has resulted in the opposite, says the head of a lobbyist group.

Bernard Lord, president and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, outlined several areas Monday where he believes the Conservative government has fallen short of explaining itself.

"If anything, I think the speech from the throne led to more confusion and less answers," he said during a speech at the Toronto Board of Trade.

The throne speech on Oct. 16 included a plan by the government to "reduce roaming costs and networks within Canada," an objective that didn't outline a proposed solution, he said.

"When the government talks about domestic roaming in the speech from the throne, I'm not sure what exactly that is," Lord said. "I'm not sure they know what that is."

Lord, a former premier of New Brunswick and once head of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Bilingualism Committee, also cautioned that leaders shouldn't overstep their boundaries, adding that he sees "a very limited role for government" when it comes to regulation of competition in the telecom industry.

He said the government should reduce the fees it charges wireless carriers and ensure there is more spectrum — the radio waves needed to operate cellphones — be available to telecom companies. That, he said, would make it possible for wireless networks to support future demand from consumers' smartphones, which use an increasing amount of data.

According to the industry group, data consumption will be gobbled up at nine times the rate of last year by 2017, as more Canadians purchase smartphone devices. A typical smartphone consumes the same amount of wireless spectrum as about 50 "feature phones," or the older models that were once common with most users.

Last year, Ottawa decided to ease the rules on foreign investment for wireless companies with less than 10 per cent of the marketplace, paving the way for the entry of foreign companies.

Lord took issue with some of the special advantages granted to foreign companies who operate in Canada, including an exception that allows foreign telecom companies to bid on more spectrum "blocks" than a domestic company.

"We must close the loopholes before we open the borders," he said.

Recently, U.S. company Verizon had explored plans to open in Canada, but later decided against the prospects.

While the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association represents the country's biggest wireless carriers, Bell (TSX:BCE), Telus (TSX:T) and Rogers (TSX:RCI.B), several of the smaller telecom companies severed most ties with the association earlier this year over concerns their interests weren't being met.

Wind Mobile, Mobilicity and Public Mobile all yanked their support for the organization in April claiming that the group had a "consistent bias" that favoured the larger competitors.