Canadian telecom customers could soon see more operator choices as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved the final terms for MVNO network access. Under the new framework, the country’s large mobile operators must open up their networks to virtual operators and negotiate access agreements within 90 days.
This latest decision builds on the CRTC’s move in 2021 to make wholesale network access mandatory for the MNOs as a way to promote competition and reduce retail prices. Bell, Telus, Rogers, and Sasktel must have their networks ready within 30 days for the wholesale services and provide seamless hand-off to the new service providers within 90 days. If they cannot reach commercial agreements with the newcomers within the 90-day period, the CRTC may intervene and arbitrate a deal.
The Canadian mobile and fixed prices have been some of the most expensive in the world. With this move, the CRTC hopes to bring down prices by increasing competition in the marketplace.
However, there is cause to be skeptical about the impact of this new rule on the market, as there are a number of challenges Canadian providers encounter that are distinct from most of their global peers. While the major Canadian cities have dense clusters, beyond these areas, operators face a vast landmass to cover and a limited population over which to spread the cost. To provide a sense of scale, Canada has roughly the same population as Poland, but more than 30 times the land area. Building out and maintaining networks that cover a country with those characteristics will almost inevitably result in high costs for consumers. Further, even if this increased competition is successful in driving down prices, it is also important to note that this move could negatively impact long-term investment in network infrastructure, which would be particularly damaging to the country’s scattered rural communities.
The impact of this move on Canadian mobile prices remains to be seen, and as these companies navigate the new rules and negotiate with virtual operators, it is worth keeping an eye on the situation.