CRTC ruling paves the way for Canadian MVNOs


The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has approved the terms of mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) access agreements, potentially offering Canadian customers a broader choice of mobile providers

This week, the CRTC has ruled that Canada’s four national mobile network operators – Bell, Rogers, Sasktel, and Telus – will be mandated to allow regional competitors access to their mobile networks on an MVNO basis.

This will allow smaller players to offer services throughout the country, with the CRTC saying the move will foster competition and drive down costs for customers.

Following the ruling, Canada’s major operators will now have 90 days to negotiate MVNO access agreements with these smaller providers. If agreements cannot be reached within this timeframe, the CRTC may intervene to facilitate a deal.

“While there are encouraging signs that prices are trending downwards, we need to accelerate competition and more affordable options for Canadians,” said CRTC chairperson Ian Scott in a statement. “The competitive model we are introducing today will result in greater choice and cheaper mobile wireless services for Canadians, who rely on their smartphones now more than ever.”

This new hybrid MVNO approach means access must be granted to regional players that own their own spectrum and networks, but not to smaller players without such investments (i.e., true MVNOs). The CRTC will reportedly consider moving to a full, broad-based MVNO model is the hybrid model fails to produce the desired results.

The debate as to whether the CRTC should open up the Canadian mobile ecosystem to MVNOs has been rumbling for a number of years.

In early 2020, the CRTC announced a review of the country’s wireless market after surveys found that the majority of Canadians viewed their mobile bills as higher than everywhere else in the world. Following this review, the CRTC began discussing the potential of granting regional mobile operators access to the major operators’ networks on a wholesale basis, thereby allowing them greater reach and customers more choice.

Such suggestions where immediately met with criticism from the likes of Telus, Rogers, and Bell, which argued that the Canadian mobile market was already competitive enough and that the introduction of MVNOs could disincentivise network investment.

Nevertheless, the CRTC decided to move forward with a facilities-based MVNO access model in 2021, with an initial draft of the new policy announced in 2022. The operators were invited to suggest revisions to the policy by May this year.

Now, that this deadline has passed, the CRTC is moving forward with the process once again, urging the operators to be fast and fair during their MVNO negotiations.

“We are one step closer to implementing our policy that will enable regional providers to offer wireless services in areas where competition is limited,” explained Scott. “This will help provide more affordable options to millions of Canadians while increasing competition. We expect the large providers to negotiate in good faith and come to an agreement as quickly as possible with regional wireless providers.”

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