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Industry Minister Holds Closed Door Meetings With Big Telecoms And You’re Not Invited

Industry Minister Christian Paradis just completed nearly two weeks of private meetings with some of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies regarding issues important to the industry, but has not scheduled face time with ordinary Canadian consumers or the public interest consumer groups that represent their interests.

Minister Paradis

Wire Report provided the schedule:

Aug. 16
Cogeco Cable Inc.
Shaw Communications Inc.
Quebecor Media Inc.
Globalive Wireless Management Corp.
Xplornet Communications Inc.
Public Mobile

Aug. 17
BCE Inc.
Telus Communications Co.

Aug. 22
Rogers Communications Inc.
MTS Allstream

Aug. 24

Bloomberg reports the primary topic on the agenda is upcoming spectrum auctions for additional wireless frequencies and loosening restrictions on foreign-ownership rules regarding would-be wireless competitors interested in entering Canada’s cell phone marketplace, which currently has the third-highest prices for mobile-phone services in the world, according to the OECD.

A rules change regarding foreign ownership may open the door...

Canadian telecom providers may not have more than 20 percent of their operations owned or controlled by foreign entities, a percentage that could be adjusted in the coming months.  But while changes in foreign ownership rules may benefit new entrants like Globalive Holdings, which operates Wind Mobile, it could also spell profound changes for millions of Canadians.  Industry analyst Dvai Ghose told Bloomberg he expects any relaxation of foreign-ownership rules may also pave the way for a mega merger of Bell and Telus.

“If you allow foreigners into our market, it becomes much more compelling to say we should allow one Canadian champion,” said Ghose, co-head of Canadian research at Canaccord Genuity.

That “champion” could quickly become Canada’s version of AT&T, dramatically reducing competition and raising prices, especially for captive landline customers who rely on the companies for broadband and landline service.  Telus and Bell currently compete with one another in the wireless market, where they would have an enormous share and combined market power should they be permitted to merge.

That would be a high price to pay for many Canadian consumers who do business with Bell or Telus, especially when contrasted with the fact Wind Mobile has attracted only 271,000 customers as of the end of March 2011.

...to a mega-merger of Bell and Telus.

Unfortunately, consumers are not included in Minister Paradis’ day-planner to share their views of further marketplace consolidation or wireless spectrum reform.  In fact, they don’t even have a right to learn what exactly was discussed during the closed door sessions.

A spokeswoman for Paradis, Pascale Boulay, would only confirm the minister met with 13 companies since Aug. 16, but refused to elaborate on the meetings.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski tried this approach with some of America’s largest telecommunications companies last summer, holding a series of closed door meetings.  They eventually produced telecommunications policies so watered down, they neutralized Genachowski’s earlier commitments to protect Net Neutrality and foster additional competition.  Will Canada repeat America’s mistake?

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