Canada’s Telecom Execs Resort to Childish Tantrums – Again

by Jordan Richardson on June 4, 2010

Canada’s top telecommunications executives have been shooting the breeze with federal regulators all week long at proceedings of the CRTC in Quebec. The Gatineau meetings have been considerably “staid” throughout, but that hasn’t stopped a few bizarre and stunning moments from taking place.

In an earlier entry, I discussed the issue at hand for Canada’s big providers. The basic thrust of the matter is that the regulatory body is discussing whether or not the larger providers will still have to sell their more advanced networks with smaller companies who already lease space on those networks. As my earlier report described, Bell seems to think the monopoly is over and that such a new “reality” should reflect a different set of circumstances for the company.

The hearings have taken place from Monday to Thursday and little has actually been accomplished. Part of the problem appears to be the fact that none of the companies present want to discuss issues like future investments and “possible negotiations” with their competitors in the same room.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for these proceedings, with billions of dollars in potential revenue and technology on the table. How the CRTC decides to handle this “new era” in Canadian telecommunications remains to be seen, but that hasn’t stopped the providers and their representatives from getting a little testy.

BCE’s George Cope expressed hesitation and didn’t want “to talk about future technology with our cable competitors in the room.”

Telus’ VP of regulatory and government affairs Michael Hennessy, however, had a different approach. “We’d negotiate anything. Bite me. This is bullshit,” he said after being asked how his company would negotiate.

The CRTC is in the uninviting position of trying to divvy up Canada’s telecom markets in a way that opens the door for competition without threatening any of the bigger providers. The basic problem lies in considering the public interest over the private interest, making a complicated issue all the more complicated among individuals to whom anything related to regulation is a supreme evil.

As mentioned, the big providers have already threatened to not invest in the industry further if they’re “forced” to share their networks with the smaller providers. And the smaller providers warn that they’ll be unable to compete with anyone if they don’t have access to the pricey technology the big boys use.

Whether with the Tim Horton’s analogies of George Cope or the Rodney Dangerfield comparisons of Rogers’ exec Ken Engelhart, it’s clear that the telecommunications companies in Canada are not tiring of the posturing and of the performing. This is, after all, what they do when they aren’t locking consumers in gigantic contracts with absurd rates.

So what’s to be done? Can Canada’s telecommunications industry really claim to be a competitive marketplace? Does the imposition of regulation on the big providers represent a violation of free market principles and, as such, a threat to the values of “true capitalists?” Is anyone thinking of the public?

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