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Rogers Snaps Up Another Independent Cable Company; Hamilton-based Source Cable

source-cableRogers Communications will acquire Hamilton, Ont.-area independent Source Cable in a quiet $160-million deal.

The transaction was first noticed in Rogers’ quarterly financial report to shareholders, noting that Source Cable provides cable, broadband, and phone service to only a part of the city of Hamilton. Rogers already provides service next to Source Cable’s service area so a transition to Rogers should pose few issues for eastern Canada’s biggest cable operator. The rest of greater Hamilton will continue to be served by Cogeco and Rogers in their respective service areas.

“We’re really excited about purchasing Source Cable,” said Kevin Spafford, Rogers Communications spokesperson. “We view this acquisition as a growth opportunity because the company is well run; the footprint is adjacent to our existing cable systems; they have really good penetration of cable TV and Internet services, and there is potential for new customers as the unbuilt part of the area develops.”

Subscribers are less enthusiastic.

The cable company has always been responsive to its customers and willing to pioneer new technology before larger providers like Rogers.

Source Cable customers may win some extra ethnic language programming now seen on Rogers, but will likely experience a major downgrade in how they deal with their cable provider. Source customers will eventually be exposed to Rogers’ much lower-rated customer service. Broadband customers are also likely to lose their unlimited Internet service, forced to select from Rogers’ usage-capped plans.

Source Cable was started by former city alderman Jim Campbell in 1974. Campbell died two years ago.

Source Cable's service coverage area is limited to a number of blocks in parts of Hamilton, Ont.

Source Cable’s service coverage area is limited to a number of blocks in parts of Hamilton, Ont.

 

Rogers Harrasses Downgrading Customers With Browser Injection Messages

Plan on downgrading your Rogers cable, phone or Internet service? Be ready for messages injected into your web browsing sessions by the cable company trying to win back your business.

Daryl Fritz from Toronto decided to cancel his Rogers’ home phone and television service and downgrade his Internet service. Fritz soon found this banner intruding on every web page he tried to visit:

rogers

Your decision to leave Rogers is not something we take lightly. We value your business and care about how happy you are with your Rogers experience, so we would like to extend a special offer* in the hope that you will reconsider your decision. Please call 1-855-410-7589 (M-F 9am-9pm/Sat 10am-6pm ET) before your service disconnects to let us know why you are thinking of leaving Rogers. We appreciate your time and consideration. Please click on the “X” in the top right hand corner to acknowledge that you have received this message.

*-Offer available for a limited time for the account indicated (non-transferable) and subject to change without notice.

rogersThe banner usually disappears after the customer acknowledges receiving it. Stop the Cap! has learned the number directs callers to Rogers’ customer retention department where customers are pitched special discounts to change their mind. The prices are comparable, if not better, than new customer promotions found on Rogers’ website. Rogers is far less annoying than Comcast is when it faces losing a customer. If a customer rejects the offer (or never calls in to hear one), they are not bothered any longer and the representative thanks them for their time.

Rogers retention offers are often extremely aggressively priced, especially if mentioning you are leaving for a competitor (especially Bell). Rogers reps can slash prices, put you on a high usage broadband plan at prices lower than what regular customers pay for slower speeds, waive usage caps for a few dollars more, lock in rates for up to eight years, and offer heavy discounts off almost everything.

One current example for cable television:

  • 30% off basic cable ($28/mo instead of $40)
  • TFC ($15/mo)
  • NextBox 2.0 set-top (free) NextBox 3.0 ($2.50/mo)
  • Digital Services Fee (eliminated)
  • CRTC LPIF (it’s the government — $0.50/mo)

rogersThis can knock your Rogers cable bill down to $46/month before GST and other taxes.

Broadband customers can grab a 50% discount off plans like Hybrid Fibre 150 (GTA), normally $86 a month, but $43 on a retention plan. Customers get 150Mbps and 350GB of usage. If you don’t want a cap, demand a deal to remove it (it regularly costs $25/month extra for unlimited). The modem rental is included.

If you still want Rogers Home Phone, you are paying too much if it costs over $20 a month. Home Phone Favourites, including Call Display and one other calling feature of your choice is $15/month on retention. Add 500 long distance minutes for $5/month extra.

All three services combined should cost no more than about $104 a month before GST, which adds $13.52 in Ontario. Provincial taxes vary.

New Rogers customers can also get very aggressively priced deals. This week Rogers is selling 30/5Mbps Internet service (includes 270GB allowance and free modem) for $54.95. Regularly, it’s $61.99 with only a 70GB monthly usage allowance. That is still outrageously high by American standards, but isn’t bad for Rogers. New customers should call 1-800-605-6678 to ask about current offers.

Rogers CEO Self-Servingly Declares Canada Can’t Handle Four Wireless Competitors

Laurence is the ex-CEO of Vodafone.

Laurence is the ex-CEO of Vodafone.

The new chief executive of one of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies has declared the country can’t support a fourth national wireless competitor because it will simply cost too much to build and maintain.

Guy Laurence has been very vocal about Canadian telecommunications policies since taking over for Nadir Mohamed who retired last year.

This week Laurence announced a reboot of Rogers Communications he dubbed v3.0, designed to face the “hard truth” that most Canadians despise the cable and wireless company.

“Every day I marvel at what an amazing company Ted [Rogers] built, Laurence said, referring to the company’s founder. “The mix of assets, the culture of innovation and depth of employee pride is extraordinary. But we’ve neglected our customers, and we’ve let our legacy of growth and innovation slip. The plan I’ve laid out will significantly improve the experience for our customers and re-establish our growth by better leveraging our assets and consistently executing as One Rogers.”

Most of the changes Laurence plans relate to its poorly-rated customer service. Laurence has insisted that all customer service functions, including call centers, customer service, service technicians and marketing will be combined into a single unit that will report directly to him.

But Laurence said nothing about improving service plans, dropping usage caps, or lowering prices.

rogers csSeveral long time Rogers executives are out the door, either voluntarily or quietly pushed out.

“When you remove overlap and reduce bureaucracy, and you create agility, then it takes less people in management. So there will be job losses at the management level. No doubt of this,” Laurence said. “But because this is not a cost story, I don’t have a dollar value or a number of people. I don’t even have the vaguest idea in my head what that might be.”

Like many American cable companies, Rogers has lost video customers although it is still growing its broadband business by picking up ex-DSL customers. With overall growth flat during 2013, the new CEO wants to maximize shareholder value by limiting the number of costly new projects launched. Instead, Laurence promised “fewer, more impactful initiatives” under Rogers 3.0.

Rogers will continue to depend heavily on its profitable wireless division, which competes against Bell and Telus.

Although Canadian government officials have repeatedly sought a fourth national competitor willing to break with tradition in the wireless market, Laurence says the government is engaged in wishful thinking if it believed a fourth carrier would shake things up in Canada.

“I’m not saying the government is wrong. I’m not saying that they should change their policy. My personal view is that it is difficult to see a scenario where a fourth carrier will be successful,” Laurence said. “What you saw in Europe was a number of different countries who pursued the four-carrier option for a period of five to seven years. It was politically very popularist and they were happy to follow that. What you clearly see now, and I cite Germany and France, is that they’ve started to realize that given the capital complexity involved in these companies, it is very difficult to support a fourth carrier.”

Canadian wireless companies have recently embraced a study by the Montreal Economic Institute that declared the presence of a fourth national carrier would be “wasteful.”

“It may be preferable for financial resources … to be concentrated in the hands of a few strong players willing to invest in new technologies and services rather than scattered among several small and feeble competitors trying to survive by selling at prices barely above marginal costs,” the report said.

The Montreal Economic Institute won't reveal its donor list of corporations that pay for its research.

The Montreal Economic Institute won’t reveal its donor list of corporations that pay for its research.

The Montreal Economic Institute is “funded by the voluntary donations of individuals, businesses and foundations that support its mission.” The MEI does not disclose the specifics of its donors, however, for fears that “organizations similar to the MEI” would have an opportunity to solicit funds. The foundation of the MEI’s mission statement is couched in basic free market ideology, such as the Randian conception that “people who make money are creating wealth.”

Despite asking repeatedly, MEI will not disclose whether its telecom-related studies were funded by the telecommunications companies named in their reports. But there is little doubt of MEI’s economic philosophy.

Michel Kelly-Gagnon, the president and CEO of MEI, has written a number of opinion pieces that further illuminate the mission of the organization, notes The Telecom Blog. Included among them are articles that suggest “true entrepreneurs… deserve our gratitude” and pieces decrying a “tax the rich” mentality. There’s even a bit about the “dangers” of so-called “Soviet imagery,” citing the “intellectual and moral recklessness” in a pair of teens audacious enough to wear red T-shirts featuring USSR emblems.

Canada’s Competition Bureau, less concerned with Soviet nostalgia, found different results from increased competition – at least $1 billion in savings as competing carriers are forced to increase the wireless penetration rate while working to lower prices.

Laurence said the only way a four-carrier government policy could work in Canada is if the federal government put up taxpayer money to build, update, and run a “modern communications network” across the country. If that happens, Rogers and other companies will only be too happy to use it to offer expanded service and competition, with no commitment it will cost any less.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/MEI -- The State of Competition in Canada's Telecommunications Industry -- Paul Beaudry IEDM.flv

Paul Beaudry, associate researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute offers the amazing conclusion that more wireless competition in Canada is bad for consumers! (4:16)

HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

As the United States battles back against the introduction of usage caps and rising prices for broadband service, increased competition and regulated open wholesale access to some of Canada’s largest broadband providers have given Canadians an advantage in forcing providers to cut prices and improve service.

Canadians can now easily get unlimited broadband access from one of several independent ISPs that piggyback service on cable and phone networks. Some large ISPs have even introduced all-you-can eat broadband options for customers long-capped by the handful of big players. As customers consider switching providers, cable and phone companies have been forced to cut prices, especially for their best customers. Even cell service is now up for negotiation.

The more services a customer bundles with their provider, the bigger the discount they can negotiate, say analysts who track customer retention. Bell, Rogers, Telus, and others have a major interest keeping your business, even if it means reducing your price.

“It’s far more lucrative for the telecom company to keep you there for the third or fourth service,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told AP. It cuts down on marketing, service and installation calls, he added.

Getting the best deal often depends on your services, payment history, and how long you have been a customer. Cellphone discounts are the hardest to win, but customers are getting them if they have been loyal, carry a large balance and almost never pay late.

telus shawBigger discounts can be had for television and Internet service — cable television remains immensely profitable in Canada and broadband is cheap to offer, especially in cities. Americans often pay $80 or more for digital cable television packages, Canadians pay an average of $60.

Internet service in Canada now averages $45 a month, but many plans include usage caps. It costs more to take to the cap off.

Because of Canada’s past usage cap pervasiveness, online video is not as plentiful in Canada as it is in the United States. There has been considerably less cord-cutting in the north. Despite that, Canadians are ravenous online viewers of what they can find to watch (either legally or otherwise). As usage allowances disappear or become more generous, online video and the Internet will continue to grow in importance for service providers.

Customers should negotiate with their provider for a better deal, particularly if Bell’s Fibe TV is in town. Bell has been among the most aggressive in price cutting its fiber to the neighborhood television service for new customers ready to say goodbye to Rogers or Vidéotron.

Shaw and Telus battle for market share in the west and also have room to cut customer bills and still make a handsome profit.

Rogers Starts Shutting Off Analog Channels; Tells Subscribers It’s an ‘Enhancement’

Phillip Dampier November 21, 2013 Canada, Consumer News, Rogers 3 Comments

Some Rogers Cable customers are being notified the cable company is slimming down their analog television lineup, requiring customers to get a digital adapter to continue watching networks in their new digital format.

digital-adapter_banner_en

We’re enhancing our cable TV network to deliver on our commitment to provide you with quality in television viewing, programming and entertainment content. The Rogers Cable Network Enhancement initiative involves upgrading current analog channels to digital channels in order to provide a superior TV experience on our Rogers cable TV network.

To maintain your cable service, you may need to install a digital adapter.

Rogers says the change is designed to improve the video and sound quality of cable channels, but in reality most cable operators are shifting away from analog television to free up bandwidth that can be repurposed for more HD television channels or faster broadband service.

“The Digital Adapter is being provided to you free of charge, you will not be charged for the digital adapter or incur any service fees associated with the hardware,” says Rogers. “The Digital Adapter is being provided to you to use while you subscribe to Rogers cable television services and remains our property. The Digital Adapter must be returned to us upon termination of your Rogers cable television service.”

However, do-it-yourself types who spliced Rogers’ cable wiring themselves to add additional cable TV outlets in the home will discover “a catch.” These extra, informal cable outlets are allowed by Rogers, but the cable company will not supply digital adapters for televisions attached to them unless the subscriber formally signs up for Rogers’ “extra outlets” add-on. That does not come cheap. Rogers charges $6.99 per month for up to four extra televisions. If customers don’t sign up, those televisions without digital adapters will lose more than a dozen analog TV channels during the first wave of digital conversion. If a customer has more than four televisions hooked up to Rogers Cable, there may be more fees.

The channels Rogers is converting to digital were not selected to minimize viewer disruptions.

While The Shopping Channel secures a safe new analog channel number in St. John’s, N.B., Turner Classic Movies gets hit with a digital switch. Little watched APTN – The Aboriginal People’s Television Network survives on analog, AMC and CNN do not in Moncton. Toronto subscribers will lose 19 channels to digital, including MTV, BNN, and The Comedy Network. Two home shopping networks get to stay in analog, however.

Slow TV: Rogers Cable Launches WestJetChannel – 24/7 Baggage, Aircraft, Destinations

Phillip Dampier November 12, 2013 Consumer News, Rogers, Video 1 Comment

rogers logoWith snow on the ground in parts of southern Ontario this morning, seeing beautiful beaches and bathing suits on Grand Cayman, Puerto Plata, Holguin and St. Maarten isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Devoting a cable channel to covering one Canadian airline’s ground crews might be.

Rogers Cable this week announced the takeoff of WestJetChannel, a 24/7 network capturing baggage handlers tossing luggage into the airline’s fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft. If that isn’t enough, watch gripping live coverage of airplane wranglers with light sticks pushing a plane away from the terminal.

westjet“This is an amazing opportunity to pull back the curtain and show people what we do and how we do it,” said David Soyka, WestJet’s director of marketing. “We’re looking forward to taking viewers behind the scenes at our airports as well as to some of our most spectacular destinations, without ever having to leave the comfort of their couch. We’re always in the air — and now we’re on the air, too.”

It’s another example of “Slow TV” Rogers has embraced with open arms, adding “real-time” coverage of mundane things to your cable TV lineup.

An early example of American "Slow TV"

An early example of American “Slow TV”

If WestJetChannel doesn’t fly, viewers can sink or swim with the Aquarium Channel, showing nothing but tropical fish. If that is all wet, dry off by the fire — Swiss Chalet’s Rotisserie Channel, featuring slowly roasting chickens. Unable to get away on holiday? Rogers customers could instead spend quality time with The Cottage Channel. Now they can watch WestJet take other people to the places they wish to see, but can’t afford to visit after paying the cable bill.

Rogers isn’t responsible for inventing “Slow TV.” WPIX-TV’s “Yule Log” was one of the earliest examples, treating apartment-bound New Yorkers to a roaring fire at Gracie Mansion beginning Christmas Eve, 1966. The original three-hour program was actually a 17-second 16mm film loop accompanied by a simulcast of WPIX-FM, which provided accompanying traditional Christmas music. In 1970, the original worn-out film was replaced with a 7-minute 35mm film loop shot in California and still seen today.

Norsk rikskringkasting, the Norwegian Broadcasting Company has made “Slow TV” their own, much to the delight of Scandinavian viewers.

In 2011, NRK broadcast 134 hours non-stop of a cruise ship going up the Norwegian coast to the Arctic, winning the world record for the longest continuous TV program. Millions of Norwegians tuned in. In February, it aired a 12-hour show on firewood, featuring discussions about stacking and chopping and a debate on whether the bark should face up or down. At least 20% of Norwegians watched the event.

Last Friday, Norway’s biggest broadcaster aired 12 hours of knitting, complete with needle tips and a how-to on knitting a cover for a Harley Davidson motorbike. The event started with  sheep shearing in the studios of NRK2 followed by teams furiously trying to break the world record for the fastest knitted sweater.

“You can argue that the national knitting night is the feminine response to the firewood show,” said NRK spokeswoman Sidsel Mundal.

“We’ll dive deep into the world of knitting, then from midnight, we’ll turn down the pace, if that’s even possible,” said producer Rune Moeklebust. “We’ll watch the arm of a sweater get longer and longer; it will be fascinating, but pretty strange TV.”

NRKWho needs 5-Hour Energy when you can watch that.

The National Knitting Evening turned out to be such a ratings smash, rights for the concept have been sold to U.S.-based LMNO Productions for reconceptualization.

Norwegians celebrate “Slow TV” partly as a backlash to artificial drama generated by the reality-TV craze that has swept across Europe and North America.

Flying until Feb. 2, 2014, WestJetChannel can be found on Ch. 206 on Rogers Cable in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WestJetChannel Promo 11-12-13.mp4

A promo for WestJetChannel, now on your Rogers Cable lineup. (0:42)

Competition Not: Canada’s Forthcoming Spectrum Auction Bidders a Familiar Lot

before after

Before -and- After

Hopes for increased Canadian wireless competition were dashed last week when Industry Canada released an official list of approved spectrum auction bidders mostly filled with familiar names.

Fifteen Canadian participants including market-dominant Bell, Rogers and Telus each put down a refundable 5% deposit for the Jan. 14 auction. Most of the rest of the bidders are regional providers or suspected spectrum speculators hoping to sell any acquired spectrum at a profit.

It was good news for the three largest cell companies which feared the possibility of a well-funded new entrant like Verizon Wireless. Instead of facing the deep pockets of Verizon, the three cell companies will be competing against regional providers like Quebec’s Vidéotron, Bragg Communications’ EastLink which serves Atlantic Canada, and provincial telephone companies MTS in Manitoba and SaskTel in Saskatchewan.

Two private equity firms are also participating: a subsidiary of Birch Hill Equity Partners and Catalyst Capital which holds the debt for independent Wind Mobile. Wind Mobile’s owner Globalive Communications is also registered as a participant. Both could use the airwaves in the Wind Mobile business or sell them to another provider.

“Ultimately, what would have been great is to have a well-capitalized startup, a feisty competitor coming in,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told the Canadian Press news agency. “That would have been the best thing for consumers.”

But Canada’s best hope for lower cell phone bills was never to be found from Verizon Wireless.

“I can assure our investors that we never have and never will be leading on price,” Lowell McAdam told investors at a conference last week.

Rogers Communications Finds a New Leader: Ex-CEO of Vodafone UK

Incoming Rogers CEO has a reputation for hating cubicles, desks, meetings, and paper. How many Rogers' employees left standing after anticipated job cuts to enjoy the changes is unknown.

Incoming Rogers CEO Guy Laurence has a reputation for hating cubicles, desks, meetings, and paper. How many Rogers’ employees will be left to enjoy the changes is unknown.

Rogers Communications has tapped Guy Laurence, the head of one of Great Britain’s largest cell phone operators to lead eastern Canada’s biggest cable and wireless firm after current CEO Nadir Mohamed retires in early December.

The company has spent months on a global search to find its next chief executive and signaled how important its wireless business is by selecting the current CEO of Vodafone UK to run the business.

Shareholders barely registered this morning’s announcement, with little movement in the stock, but analysts at some of Wall Street’s largest investment banks think the choice will help Rogers better position itself against increasing competition from Bell/BCE and Telus, which have stolen away some of Rogers’ cable and wireless customers.

“Its unique mix of wireless, cable and media assets offer a brilliant platform to provide innovative service to Canadians. I intend to build on the strong foundation established under Nadir’s leadership to compete and win in the market,” Laurence said in the statement.

When Laurence relocates to Rogers’ headquarters in Toronto, he will be immediately confronted with a Conservative government that has made wireless competition a hallmark of its political platform. In January, Rogers will be a participant in federal spectrum actions for coveted new 700MHz frequencies that Rogers wants to expand its cellular network. Ottawa wants some of those frequencies to be set aside for new competitors to bolster wireless competition. Rogers, along with the other large incumbents, wants access to bid on all available spectrum.

The company has struggled with declining market share as a growing number of customers finishing their wireless contracts have taken the opportunity to change providers, mostly to Bell and Telus’ benefit.

rogers csRogers Cable has also suffered subscriber losses in Ontario from increasing competition from Bell’s IPTV service Fibe, which continues to run aggressive new customer promotions.

Rogers may be hoping for an image reset in Canada, and Laurence’s unconventional way of doing business may help.

“I don’t believe in offices. They’re a thing of the past. Offices produce things like a conventional company,” Laurence told a British newspaper in 2011.

To underline his point, Laurence abolished offices and personal desks for Vodafone employees and underlined the new policy by ordering cleaning staff to incinerate any items left on desks overnight. Vodafone workers are given a laptop, a Vodafone mobile phone and an employee locker. Where they choose to conduct business is up to them. Meetings are heavily frowned upon.

The incoming Rogers CEO also despises paper, and wants employees to use as little of it as possible.  At Vodafone, workers often had to buy paper themselves for use in the office and hide it from view.

Rogers’ dress code may also radically change. At Vodafone, Laurence insisted employees dress the same way customers do.

“When you remove the barriers of offices, meetings and all the rest of it, people can spend more time doing what they’re supposed to do,” Laurence said. “As a consequence, people start to perform better. It used to take us 90 days to do a pricing change. We do that in four days now.”

Analysts suspect fixing Rogers’ lousy reputation for customer service will be one of his top priorities. Rogers’ executives will also be updating their resumes — Laurence has a reputation for shaking up middle and upper management. But one priority Rogers’ investors expect will not change: protecting the company’s high profit margins and continued efforts to cut costs.

Laurence did not forget everything he learned while getting his MBA. After joining Vodafone, he initiated a brutal workforce reduction that separated 2,350 Vodafone employees from their desks and lockers – permanently, slashing the payroll from 9,500 to 7,150 workers.

Verizon Says It Won’t Enter Canada; Incumbent Providers’ See Major Stock Gains

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svgExecutives at Canada’s largest telecom companies are sighing relief after Verizon announced it was not interested in competing in Canada.

“Verizon is not going to Canada,” Lowell McAdam, chief executive officer of New York-based Verizon, said yesterday in a phone interview with Bloomberg News. “It has nothing to do with the Vodafone deal, it has to do with our view of what kind of value we could get for shareholders. If we thought it had great value creation we would do it.”

McAdam added he thought speculation about Verizon’s plans in Canada was “way overblown.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Big 3 Canada telecom stocks surge as Verizon threat fades 9-3-13.flv

The CBC reports three of the largest telecom companies in Canada are seeing their stock prices soar on news Verizon won’t enter Canada. Kevin O’Leary takes a position shared by Bell, Telus and Rogers that no spectrum should be set aside for new competitors. Instead, he seeks a “winner takes all” auction, even if it means dominant incumbent carriers monopolize every available frequency. (3 minutes)

McAdam

McAdam

Verizon’s possible entry into Canada was among the hottest stories of the summer, even reported on the CBC’s national nightly news. The potential new competition provoked Bell, Rogers, and Telus — three of Canada’s largest phone and cable companies — to join forces in a multimillion dollar lobbying effort to slow Verizon down and make the wireless business in Canada less attractive. The Harper government used news of Verizon’s potential entry to promote its policies favoring competition over regulation.

Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said the company was considering a wireless venture in Canada at a June Wall Street investor conference.

“We’re looking at the opportunity,” Shammo said at the time. “This is just us dipping our toe in the water.”

Verizon took its toe out yesterday, despite the potential profits available in a country criticized for its extremely expensive cell phone service.

“I’m surprised that Verizon isn’t interested in Canada,” tweeted Adam Shore. “There are over 33 million suckers up here that will pay ridiculous cell phone rates.”

Bell joined Telus and Rogers to launch a multi-million dollar lobbying effort to make Verizon's entry into Canada difficult.

Bell joined Telus and Rogers in launching a multi-million dollar lobbying effort to make Verizon’s entry into Canada difficult.

The three companies most Canadians now buy wireless service from denied they wanted to keep Verizon out, arguing they simply wanted a “level playing field.”

Industry Minister James Moore suggested a fourth large player could provoke a price war in a way much smaller wireless providers like Wind Mobile or Mobilicity never could. The government was willing to set aside coveted 700MHz wireless spectrum at a forthcoming auction to help a new entrant — any new entrant — get started.

Verizon’s decision to stay out might have delivered a damaging blow to the Conservative government’s “pro-competition” solution to the problem of high cell phone bills. After the announcement, Moore was left promising only that spectrum auctions would carry on regardless of Verizon’s decision.

For now, the best chance of increased competition comes from Quebecor, which is gradually expanding its wireless network. Spectrum set asides almost guarantee the owner of Quebec’s cable giant Vidéotron will be able to bid for and win significant spectrum at the upcoming auction, some at a discount.

“If Verizon doesn’t show up, they’re actually in a very strong position to buy a block of spectrum that will not be very expensive,” Maher Yaghi, an analyst at Desjardins Securities Inc., told Bloomberg News. “Wireless is currently providing them with a nice growth platform.”

Without a surprise late entrant suddenly announcing interest by the auction filing deadline of Sept. 17, many analysts predict the outcome will likely not deliver Canadians any significant changes in cell phone service and pricing. The government may also be disappointed with the auction proceeds. Canada’s big three will likely avoid overbidding and still end up dividing most of the available airwaves between them. Quebecor may end up with most of the rest at comparatively “fire sale” prices. The Montreal-based company must then decide how much it will spend to expand its home coverage areas outside of Quebec, Toronto, and southeastern Ontario.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Verizon Wont Enter Canada 9-3-13.flv

BNN reports Verizon’s decision not to enter Canada leaves the Conservative government without an effective means to moderate cell phone pricing in the country. Mary Anne de Monte-Whelan, president of The Delan Group, observed the government may be forced to take a more regulatory approach to control expensive cell service, possibly starting with roaming rates.  (7 minutes)

Canadian Wireless Carriers Freak Out Over Rumored Verizon Entry; Panic Buttons Pressed

upsetcableguyThe three companies that control 90 percent of Canada’s cell phone marketplace have set what they argue is ‘cut-throat’ competition aside to team up in a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign to discourage Verizon Wireless from entering the country.

Bell, Rogers, and Telus have maintained what critics charge is a “three-headed oligopoly” in the wireless business for years, leading to findings from the OECD that Canada is among the ten most expensive countries in the world for wireless service in almost every category and has among the highest roaming rates in the world.

Americans also pay high cell phone prices, and customers of both countries will find somewhat comparable pricing when comparing prices north or south of Lake Ontario. A shopper in Niagara Falls, N.Y. can find the Samsung Galaxy S4 from a Verizon reseller for $120 with a two-year contract. A shared data service plan runs as little as $80 a month for 500MB of data and unlimited domestic calling and global texting. Travel across the Rainbow Bridge to Niagara Falls, Ontario, walk into a Rogers store and the same phone runs $199 with a two-year contract (most Canadian carriers used to offer three-year special reportcontracts until the government banned them earlier this year) and a service plan running $80 a month offering the same 500MB of data and unlimited domestic calling and texting. Rogers charges extra if customers want to text a customer outside of Canada, however.

Verizon is no discount carrier. Verizon management has repeatedly stressed it offers premium service and coverage and can charge commensurately higher prices for access to that network. So the idea that Verizon’s interest in entering Canada is to launch a vicious price war is suspect, according to many telecommunications analysts.

Keep Verizon out of Canada at all costs!

They are coming.

They are coming.

In June, the Globe and Mail reported Verizon had shown serious interest in acquiring Canadian cellular upstart Wind Mobile with an early bid of $700 million. Wind Mobile, one of the three significant new “no-contract” entrants vying for a piece of the country’s cell phone market, has limped along since opening for business in 2009, unable to attract much interest from customers concerned about coverage gaps and the poor choice of mobile devices.

More recently, Wind Mobile’s new owner — the Russian mobile giant Vimpelcom — has expressed an interest in selling off the carrier because it cannot gain traction against the biggest three, which also control 85 percent of mobile wireless spectrum.

News that Verizon had taken an interest in the carrier leveled shock waves across the Canadian financial markets. Shares in the three largest telecom giants fell sharply on the news. Earlier this month, Bell CEO George Cope reported that Bell, Telus and Rogers have taken a $15-billion cumulative hit on the capital markets since Verizon hinted interest in Wind Mobile.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Verizon takes aim at telecom Big 3 with possible Wind Mobile bid 8-19-13.flv

The CBC reported earlier this summer that Verizon Wireless was interested in acquiring the 600,000 customers of independent wireless provider Wind Mobile, which has an insignificant share of the Canadian wireless market. (2 minutes)

Spending a few million, or even a billion dollars, to keep Verizon south of the Canadian-U.S. border is well worth it to the three big players who have launched an expensive campaign to block the proposed transaction and are willing to pay premium prices to keep struggling carriers from being sold to deep-pocketed American telecom companies.

bribesTelus had already done its part, attempting to scoop up another scrappy upstart carrier that wanted out of the wireless business. But the Canadian government rejected Telus’ proposed acquisition of Mobilicity, claiming it would harm efforts to expand Canadian wireless competition. Not to be deterred, Rogers is now attempting a cleverly structured deal to acquire Wind Mobile out from under Verizon with a proposed buyout worth more than $1 billion.

To avoid the anticipated rejection of the deal by Canadian regulators on competition grounds, Rogers has reportedly joined forces with Toronto-based private equity firm Birch Hill Partners that would make that firm the owners-in-name. Although Rogers wouldn’t get a direct equity stake in Wind, it would finance a good part of the deal and win access and control of Wind’s mobile spectrum for its own network. More importantly, it could keep Verizon out of Canada.

“The government is handing out loopholes to Verizon to beg them into Canada”

Cell phone companies in Canada are particularly angry that the government has set aside certain spectrum and guaranteed access for upstart providers to successfully establish themselves without having to outbid the cash-rich big three for wireless frequencies or have to build a nationwide network from scratch. Bell, Rogers and Telus have consistently opposed spectrum set-asides for small carriers, deeming them “unfair.” They argue Canadians’ voracious needs for more wireless service are unending, and it would be unfair not to sell the spectrum to benefit their larger customer bases. But hearing that Verizon, a company larger than Bell, Rogers, and Telus combined, could get preferential treatment and spectrum to enter the country has them boiling mad.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Telecom debate 8-19-13.flv

Bell’s CEO George Cope appeared on “The Lang and O’Leary Exchange” to debate the fairness of Verizon’s possible entry into Canada’s wireless market. Cope argues Verizon is getting special favors. (9 minutes)

Cope

Cope

The idea of luring a company to move or begin offering service in a barely competitive marketplace is hardly new. Cities have offered preferential policies to airlines to fly in and out of particular cities, local governments have offered tax abatements to get companies to set up shop, and providing exemptions for zoning and infrastructure have been familiar to telecommunications companies for decades.

In 1880, the National Bell Telephone Company had incorporated, through an Act of Parliament, the Bell Telephone Company of Canada (today also known as BCE), which was given the right to build telephone lines over and along all public property and rights-of-way without compensation to the public or former owners. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Bell would later become the dominant monopoly provider of telephone service across much of eastern Canada.

When the phone companies were handed wireless spectrum to launch their wireless businesses in the 1980s, they didn’t have anything to complain about either.

None of that history impressed Bell’s current CEO George Cope, who took to the airwaves to complain Verizon was being given preferential treatment:

  • Verizon could bid on two blocks of Canadian spectrum set aside for new entrants to the market in auction later this year. Because the big three Canadian firms are not permitted to bid on these blocks, they are likely to be sold at a lower price.
  • Verizon would not have to build its own networks to remote or rural communities, but would be able to piggyback on existing networks.
  • Verizon can bid to acquire small Canadian companies such as Mobilicity or Wind, but Bell, Telus and Rogers are forbidden from bidding on them.

“A company of this size certainly doesn’t need handouts from Canadians or special regulatory advantages over Canadian companies,” Bell said in a full-page newspaper ad. “But that is exactly what they get in the new federal wireless regulations. We’re ready to compete head to head, but it has to be a level playing field,” Cope said in a TV interview, echoing Rogers CEO who also called for a “level playing field.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Is Verizon really the bogeyman Canada's telecom giants claim 8-19-13.flv

Bell, Telus, and Rogers have launched a lobbying campaign designed to make life difficult for Verizon Wireless if it chooses to enter Canada. The CBC reports Verizon will be able to bid on more spectrum than Canadian carriers and will have the right to roam on Canada’s incumbent wireless networks. (2 minutes)

Industry Minister Moore

Industry Minister Moore

Telus went further, claiming Verizon’s entry into Canada would result in a “bloodbath” for Canadian workers, laid off by the three largest Canadian providers to cut costs to better compete with Verizon.

But Cope said at least one Canadian carrier won’t be able to compete at all, because preferential treatment for wireless spectrum will result in at least one of the big three to lose at a forthcoming spectrum auction, guaranteeing degraded wireless broadband speeds and worse service.

The three companies have found little sympathy in Ottawa, particularly from Industry Minister James Moore, now on a road tour across Canada to promote the government’s wireless competition policies. He called the big three’s loud campaign self-serving and announced a new website sponsored by the Conservative Party of Canada to prove it.

“I think that the public instinctively knows that when they have more choices that prices go down and more competition they’re well served by that,” he told CBC News in Vancouver on Monday. “The noise that we’re hearing is about you know companies trying to protect their company’s interest. Our job as a government is larger than that, our job is to serve the public interest and make sure that the public is served in this so that’s one of the reasons why I’m pushing back a little bit.”

Industry Minister James Moore appeared on CBC Radio this morning to contest the wireless industry’s claims that Verizon is getting special treatment and will bring unfair competition to the Canadian wireless market. (7 minutes)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Oppose Verizon Wireless. Do it for Canada!

But the wireless companies show no signs of backing down and have turned towards appealing to Canadian nationalism and fairness.

fair for canada“The U.S. government is not giving Canadian wireless carriers any special access to the U.S. market,” says a website launched by the big three cell providers to drum up support for a “level playing field.” “Then why is it that our own government is giving American companies preferential treatment over our own companies?”

This week, a Reuters report citing unnamed sources suggests Bell, Telus, and Rogers are about to target Verizon directly with a new campaign warning Canadians the American giant has been implicated in allowing the U.S. government open access to network and customer data, which would represent a profound privacy threat to Canadian customers.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bell Rogers Telus Ad 8-13.flv

Bell, Telus, and Rogers paid to produce this ad calling on Canadians to protest unfair competition from an American wireless company.  (1 minute)

So far, Canadians’ hatred of their telecommunications providers has trumped the companies’ public relations and scare tactics. The Conservative government in Ottawa is winning support for its wireless competition war, even from unlikely places.

tweet“Someone mark the date,” Tweeted one Halifax woman not inclined to vote Conservative. “Stephen Harper has done something I mostly support.”

“Eat it Telus/Bell/Rogers,” wrote a Calgary man fed up with the lack of competition in Canadian wireless.

John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, says opposition from the big three telecom companies is obvious because they don’t want to face a fourth, powerful competitor.

“They should be scared because chances are they’re going to have more competition in the Canadian market if Verizon comes in and they are going to have to lower their prices and compete harder,” Lawford told CBC News. “It’s pretty rich of them to be talking about unfairness” when they already control 90 per cent of Canadian spectrum, he added.

Iain Grant of the SeaBoard Group, a telecommunications consultancy, said government policies to open up more competition are designed to shake things up.

“[The new rules weren’t] meant to be a level playing field,” said Grant. “[They were] meant to give a leg up [to new competitors].”

“To talk of loopholes, as some do, is to not understand that the same companies who complain most loudly about loopholes in 2013 were the recipients of even greater public largesse in 1985 when the government gifted their initial spectrum as an incentive to build a wireless business in Canada,” said Grant.

wireless north america

Few companies have taken on the Canadian big three telecom providers because of their enormous market share, at least inside Canada.

Nine out of ten Canadian wireless users are subscribed to Bell, Telus or Rogers. Trying to convince a banker to extend capital loans to effectively confront a wireless oligopoly in a country with an enormous expanse of land but not people and find enough airwaves among the 15% not controlled by the big three is an uphill battle.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Wireless war heats up 8-19-13.flv

CBC reports Industry Minister Moore believes increasing competition is the best way to cut Canadian cell phone bills. Regardless of whether Verizon enters Canada, the current government will continue to push for more competition. Even the threat of Verizon coming to Canada has already reduced prices. (2 minutes)

Why does Verizon want to enter Canada?

roamingAnalysts suspect Verizon’s interest in Canada has little to do with wooing Canadians to Big Red. Many suspect Verizon’s true interest is to make life easier for its traveling American customers who head north for business or pleasure.

Chief among the possible benefits is the elimination of roaming charges for Verizon customers.

“Verizon’s customers come into the country every day through all the bridges and ports of entries and they want to roam where they want to roam, whether that’s fishing in Saskatchewan or hunting in northern Ontario or wherever,” said Grant.

There are other apparent impediments that could limit the usefulness of Wind’s mobile network to Verizon. In addition to only operating in the largest Canadian cities, Wind’s infrastructure is built by Chinese firm Huawei and is not compatible with Verizon’s technology.

Huawei has been the subject of significant controversy because of its reported ties to the Chinese military. Fears that data could be intercepted by the Chinese government have kept many North American firms from doing business with the company.

Verizon also lacks bundling options for Canadian customers. The biggest three Canadian providers can offer telephone, television, and wired broadband service to their customers. Verizon can only offer wireless service.

Verizon has second thoughts

Perhaps most remarkable are late reports that Verizon may be having second thoughts about jumping into Canada’s wireless market.

Desjardins analyst Maher Yaghi said Verizon may have delayed its plans until after Ottawa’s auction of 700MHz spectrum planned for January to better understand the potential spectrum costs it will incur entering Canada.

Others speculate incumbent providers may be attempting to end the rationale for Verizon to enter Canada in the first place. One major development includes a much more favorable roaming deal for Verizon that could dramatically cut the costs for Verizon customers to roam on Canadian networks.

Regardless of what Verizon does, Industry Minister Moore says Canada’s goal of getting increased competition will continue.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Verizon doubts 8-15-13.flv

CBC reports Verizon may be having second thoughts about entering Canada. Verizon may not be interested in entering a political battle to win licenses to provide service and may want to acquire its own spectrum before considering buying either Wind Mobile or another competitor like Mobilicity. (2 minutes)

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