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Canadian Minister Paradis Announces New Broadband Wireless Spectrum Auction PDF Print E-mail


700 MHZ LTE Spectrum Will be Available

The Honorable Christian Paradis, Canadian Minister of Industry, has announced that that the Harper Government will be taking action to provide Canadian families with more choices at low prices for wireless services.

“The Harper Government understands that Canadian families work hard for their money and that they want their government to make decisions that will help them keep more of it,” said Minister Paradis. “The measures I am outlining will ensure the timely availability of world-class wireless services at low prices for Canadian families, including those in rural areas.”

Minister Paradis announced that:

• The Telecommunications Act will be amended to lift foreign investment restrictions for telecom companies that hold less than a 10-percent share of the total Canadian telecommunications market. This will help telecom companies with a small market share access the capital they need to grow and compete.

• The government will be applying caps in the upcoming spectrum auctions to guarantee that both new wireless competitors and incumbent carriers have access to the spectrum up for auction.

• The government will apply specific measures in the 700 MHz auction to see that rural Canadians will have access to the same advanced services as everyone else in a timely manner.

• The government will improve and extend the existing policy on roaming and tower sharing to further support competition and will improve transparency and information sharing to facilitate agreements between companies to slow the proliferation of new cellphone towers.

• A portion of the 700 MHz spectrum will be reserved for public safety users such as police and firefighters across Canada.

The Harper Government is making additional spectrum available for mobile services to help meet the rapidly growing demand for high-speed wireless services. This includes the 700 MHz spectrum band, which the government has designated for mobile services following the transition of analog over-the-air television broadcasting signals to digital signals. This is only the second time such low-frequency spectrum, especially desirable due to its ability to propagate over long distances and penetrate buildings, has been made available for commercial wireless use. The government will also be auctioning 2500 MHz spectrum, which will further enable service providers to meet the rapidly growing demand for data by consumers and businesses.

This spectrum will allow telecom companies to bring the latest 4G LTE mobile networks to Canadian consumers and businesses, including those in rural areas. This means Canadians will have access to the fastest mobile speeds and latest devices, such as the newest iPad, PlayBook and smartphones. They will have access to high-definition video and video conferencing over mobile networks. Canadians will benefit from greater access to e-health, intelligent transport and other advanced applications. This will result in improved connectivity for consumers, increased business productivity and enhanced safety for Canadians.

The Canadian wireless landscape has changed significantly since the 2008 auctioning of Advanced Wireless Services spectrum. At that time, the government set aside spectrum for new entrants and implemented other policies to support new competitors. New entrants have since made large investments to launch services and are providing greater choice to Canadian consumers. These new entrants currently serve over 1 million Canadians. At the same time, Canadian incumbent wireless providers continued to invest in their networks. Over 98 percent of Canadians now have access to high-speed wireless services. Average Canadian mobile wireless prices have fallen by more than 10 percent since 2008.

This same time period has also seen an explosive growth in demand for high-speed mobile services. Globally, the use of smartphones, tablets and other data-intensive devices has resulted in mobile data use that has tripled each year since 2008. In Canada, 8 million Canadians already own a smartphone, and that number is growing rapidly. This growth is putting unprecedented demands on mobile networks.

Consultations and Considerations

In developing its policies, the government considered the stakeholder views provided during multiple public consultations. These include consultations on both the 700 MHz and the 2500 MHz spectrum auctions and on options for the reform of foreign investment restrictions. In consultations, respondents expressed a range of views. For example, all stakeholders agreed on the importance of spectrum to meet growing demand and improve services. However, views diverged on whether government action was necessary to continue to promote competition. Most incumbent wireless providers argued that no special auction measures and no changes to foreign investment restrictions were required. These companies expressed a need for additional spectrum in order to meet rapidly increasing demand for data and to deploy next-generation services to rural areas. New wireless entrants cited their limited access to spectrum and called for rules that reserved spectrum for them in upcoming auctions. These companies highlighted the fact that incumbents control about 85 percent of mobile spectrum holdings and the entire low-frequency spectrum. New entrants also pointed to limits on their ability to attract capital, and many called for relaxation of Canada’s foreign investment restrictions in the telecommunications sector. The government will apply caps in the upcoming spectrum auctions that will enable four or more service providers in each region to obtain spectrum in both the 700 MHz and the 2500 MHz bands. In the case of the 700 MHz spectrum, a limit on prime spectrum will be imposed on incumbents, which, like a set-aside, will effectively reserve prime spectrum for new entrants and regional providers. Unlike a set-aside, the measures will not require Industry Canada to identify specific blocks of spectrum, allowing companies to bid according to their Business plans. The plan is to hold the 700 MHz auction in the first half of 2013, to be followed by the 2500 MHz auction within a year.

It is the government’s expectation that companies will begin rolling out network coverage and delivering benefits to Canadians in a timely fashion after acquiring this new spectrum.

Spectrum License Obligations

This spectrum will allow telecom companies to bring the latest 4G LTE mobile networks to Canadian consumers and businesses, including those in rural areas. This means Canadians will have access to the fastest mobile speeds and latest devices, such as the newest iPad, PlayBook and smartphones. They will have access to high-definition video and video conferencing over mobile networks. Canadians will benefit from greater access to e-health, intelligent transport and other advanced applications.

This will result in improved connectivity for consumers, increased business productivity and enhanced safety for Canadians.

Rural Services

The government will require companies having access to two or more blocks of paired spectrum in the 700 MHz band, through auction licenses or through spectrum sharing, to cover 90 percent of the population of their current high-speed population coverage within five years and 97 percent within seven years of licensing. The obligations imposed on spectrum licensees are to support the deployment of next-generation services to rural Canadians in a timely fashion. In addition, general rollout requirements will be applied to both the 700 and the 2500 MHz bands, as in previous auctions, requiring between 20- and 50-percent population coverage, depending on the region, within 10 years.

Roaming Policies

Roaming allows subscribers to use services from another service provider when travelling outside of the coverage of their service provider’s network. In 2008, as part of the government’s policies to encourage new competition in the wireless sector, Industry Canada required all carriers to offer roaming, including some provisions that were only available to new entrant service providers. These requirements were put in place for five years and will begin to expire in 2013. In order to support competition and continued access to roaming for customers of new entrants, Industry Canada intends to improve and extend these roaming policies through the following:

• Extending roaming provisions indefinitely and expanding them to all carriers; and

• Shortening the timelines for initiation of arbitration and the arbitration process between companies negotiating roaming agreements.

Antenna Tower Sharing

In 2008, Industry Canada also mandated antenna tower and site sharing. This policy was introduced to reduce the proliferation of antenna towers and to facilitate the entry of new competition into the wireless market. In order to further advance these objectives, Industry Canada is proposing changes to improve the current tower sharing policies including:

• Requiring carriers to make available basic information on all towers to improve transparency and expedite the sharing process.

• Shortening the timelines for initiation of arbitration and the arbitration process.

Stakeholder input will be sought on the proposed changes to roaming and tower sharing policies. Canadians have recently benefitted from greater competition, low prices and increased choice in wireless telecommunications services. This has been the result of factors including measures introduced by the government in 2008 to support the entry of new competitors. The measures build on these actions, supporting competition and robust investment in the sector and the availability of advanced wireless services in rural areas.

In 2008, the Harper Government set aside spectrum for new entrants and implemented other policies to support new competitors. New entrants have since made large investments to launch services and are providing greater choice to Canadian consumers.