MVNOs coming to Canada? Yes, but neither fast, nor enthusiastically, nor forever

Originally published by
Author: Denis Carmel

GATINEAU – Two days after the ISED Minister Navdeep Bains issued a proposed policy direction requiring the CRTC to put Canadian consumers at the forefront of all future decisions so that telecommunications policy will ensure Canadians have access to quality services at more affordable prices, the CRTC launched a review mobile wireless services.

This review, which it said last March would come this year (earlier than planned), will primarily focus on three issues:
1. Competition in the retail market
2. Mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) access
3. 5G deployment

The Commission does state that a review of wholesale roaming won’t happen with this proceeding since it is too early to see the effects of wholesale roaming rates set just last year.

State of competition

“The Commission is concerned that (i) retail market concentration remains high (due in part to a series of acquisitions), and (ii) the Commission has been repeatedly required to intervene in the retail market, suggests that certain aspects of this market are not, in fact, sufficiently competitive in their current state to properly protect the interests of users and further the policy objectives set out in section 7 of the Act,” states the CRTC notice of consultation released today at 4 p.m.

“As part of this review, interveners will have the opportunity to make submissions regarding the definition of the retail market and whether the retail mobile wireless services currently offered by wireless carriers, including prepaid services and lower-cost data-only plans, are meeting the needs of Canadians and achieving the policy objectives of the Act,” it continues.

The CRTC also forced carriers to come up with low-cost data only plans last year.

Finally, the notice ends by saying: “Depending on the results of this review, the Commission will evaluate whether any changes to its mobile wireless service regulatory framework are required, which could include, for example, establishing new retail policies and imposing conditions of service. The review may also result in the Commission considering whether to reassert any previously forborne powers in order to apply any regulatory measures that are deemed appropriate. These could be in addition to any wholesale measures that may be required as a result of this proceeding.” is unclear if retail rate regulation is thus on the table, but we’ll update the story when we get answers to our questions.


In 2015, the Commission had hoped that MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators, or retail carriers which lease network from a network owner) would take hold without regulatory intervention, but no MVNO activity took place in the consumer retail market and the Commission has had to intervene to address disputes, but there remain precious few MVNO brands in Canada and those Canadians can choose, such as Petro-Canada Mobile and 7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless, do not offer the latest phones nor access to 4G LTE.

“In light of the above, it is the Commission’s preliminary view that it would be appropriate to mandate that the national wireless carriers provide wholesale MVNO access as an outcome of this proceeding. The Commission considers that, on balance, it is likely that the benefits that a well-developed MVNO market would deliver to Canadians are now more likely to outweigh any negative impacts that a policy of mandated wholesale MVNO access might have on wireless carriers’ network investments, particularly given the extensive investments that have been made in recent years,” the Commission says.

However, the language seems to highlight the Commission’s great reluctance too go this way, Read on:

“The Commission also continues to support the view that an appropriate mix of facilities-based and service-based competitors can and should exist in the market without specific regulation requiring their presence. In this regard, the Commission considers that while mandated wholesale MVNO access would be an effective means to stimulate the development of a retail MVNO market, as this market matures and MVNOs establish themselves, regulatory intervention should eventually give way to a market-based approach. Accordingly, the Commission’s preliminary view is that the national wireless carriers’ mandated wholesale MVNO access should be in place for a limited amount of time and be subject to a phase-out period as market forces take hold.”

This is despite the government’s consistent and sustained’ messaging effort for the Commission to go this way.


Finally, the Regulator wants “to assess whether there are barriers to the introduction of new technologies by carriers, and the extent to which regulatory intervention by the Commission may be required to support investment and competition in the evolving marketplace,” reads the notice.

“While the wireless industry has grown and evolved over the last few years, progress has been slow in certain areas. We are concerned as to whether the needs of Canadians are being fully met. We want to ensure that all Canadians benefit from a robust and competitive mobile wireless market that provides a choice of affordable and innovative services,” said Ian Scott, Chairperson and CEO of the CRTC

The hearing will start on January 13th, 2020 for a maximum of 10 days. First interventions are due May 15th.

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