Telco balls-up

Another revolting development in the dismal saga of government regulation of the telcos. A federal court has overruled the Harper government’s overruling of a competition-killing ruling by the Telecommunications Oligopoly Board (also known as the CRTC). As a result Wind Mobile, okayed for business in 2009, and having worked to build a customer base over more than a year, is being told that it’s not okay, that they are – horrors – foreign-owned (as their capital originates from Egypt, of all places; ironically a jurisdiction even more indifferent to modern communication than Canada).

This does not take effect at once, of course. The company has been given a breather for 45 days to prepare their response; they will probably appeal, the government will probably appeal (to preserve Cabinet’s scope of action), and the whole thing will drag on. And on and on.

While it is always tempting to lash out at the courts for this dim decision, the real fault likely lies elsewhere. Courts can’t disregard the law, however stupid it may be; they have to validate what is written. More responsibility lies with the government for trying to do an end-run around retrograde legislation instead of just repealing it outright. Admittedly, this might not be easy for a minority, as the opposition parties would fly into flag-waving hysterics at the mere mention of a foreign-owned company attempting to enter our sacrosanct communications market. At the least, though, the guv should have scoped out any potential pitfalls in their approach, maybe by asking a law prof if it would stand actually up to a challenge in court. They appear not to have done this – but then again they’ve only been in office for 5 years, so the idea of due diligence is probably still a bit new and strange.

This site doesn’t have any opinions about the legal technicalities of the ruling (except that nothing could be more boring). But the main point isn’t the law: its oligopoly and protectionism. What matters isn’t foreign-ownership – it’s lower prices. A cell phone company owned in equal parts by Mexican drug lords, Saudi princes and Robert Mugabe – if it offered better rates – would be a huge improvement over market control by Telus, Rogers and Bell and their sock-puppet discount arms. Not coming any time soon, though.