Fledgling Industry Minister Christian Paradis gave little or no hint of the federal government's plans for the turbulent telecommunications industry Tuesday, as he made his debut speech at an industry conference.
Delegates at the Canadian Telecom Summit had earlier heard executives from Rogers Communications Inc., Bell and some smaller players muse about their hopes for looming changes in the industry.
Ottawa has hinted it will change foreign ownership rules, auction off access to radio waves used for wireless business and launch a new digital strategy to roll out high-quality Internet access across the country.
But Paradis said he needs more time to get settled into his new role before making any specific pronouncements. He also gave no indication when more details might be forthcoming.
'I will just say stay tuned'—Christian Paradis
"I can't provide you with a day (but) this is a priority for our government," he told reporters after his speech. "I will just say stay tuned."
Earlier, Rogers and Bell — who face growing competition from smaller wireless players such as Wind Mobile and Public Mobile — argued that the government's actions must put all companies on an equal footing and not favour smaller upstarts.
"It does come back down to a level playing field and we think that's the way to go and that's what's going to produce the best outcomes for the industry," Rogers wireless president Rob Bruce said in an interview after his keynote speech at the conference.
"That means if foreign ownership gets implemented, it gets implemented equally, whether it's for new entrants or whether it's for incumbents."
Bruce's view was echoed by Bell's Jonathan Daniels, vice-president of regulatory law, who also said the next auction of radio waves — on which wireless networks operate — must be fair and not include provisions that would give advantages to smaller wireless carriers.
"It is the largest players that are most likely to roll out broadband to rural areas... and the ability for them to do that, if they are limited (in the auction) and not able to compete, is going to actually affect Canadians," Daniels said. "The consequence of that is going to be less rollout in rural areas."
But Ron Styles, president of regional provider Sasktel, countered that excellent high-speed Internet access will only be rolled out to every corner of the country if the government "establishes a legal and regulatory environment" that would require it.
"Make no mistake, there's little to no margin in providing rural broadband — competition will not deliver broadband to rural areas, to reserves, or to remote northern areas in Canada," Styles said.
"If we had to wait for a business case to justify ubiquitous rural electrification, large swaths of this country would still be in the dark."
John Maduri of Xplornet Communications, a Woodstock, N.B.-based company that bills itself as Canada's leading rural Internet provider, is calling on the government to ensure that rural initiatives are given some consideration during the spectrum auction.
"Our request of Industry Canada... is that they unbundle (some) urban and rural, and to be very clear, we're not asking for that to be done across all of the 700 MHz or 2.5 GHz (range) but at least for one or two tranches that allow us to get in the game on these critical elements of spectrum."
Bruce expects the auction will be held in late 2012 or early 2013 and would like even more spectrum made available.
"We expect with the terrific growth that we're seeing in smartphones and the success of wireless data, that as an industry we're going to need more wireless spectrum to continue to do a great job for customers," he said, noting that 45 per cent of Rogers customers are now using BlackBerry, iPhone or Android smartphones.
Telecom insiders were eagerly awaiting Paradis' speech and hoped to hear some hints about its future plans.
Paradis said consultations on how to structure the auction and the specific conditions of the new licences will begin later this year. He also said the ministry is considering other frequencies that could be made available to the industry in the years ahead.
Telecom insiders had been eagerly awaiting Paradis' speech and hoped to hear some hints about his future plans.
In October 2009, the CRTC said that Wind's parent company Globalive didn't meet Canadian ownership and control requirements to operate as a telecommunications carrier.
Egyptian telecom company Orascom owns 65 per cent of Globalive and holds the majority of its debt, a structure accepted by Industry Canada when Wind Mobile's license was originally granted, but the sticking point for the CRTC when ruling it wasn't Canadian.
Rival wireless company Public Mobile took the issue of telecom ownership rules involving Wind Mobile to the courts. In February, the Federal Court of Canada quashed then Industry Minister Tony Clement's order-in-cabinet to overrule the CRTC.