Ottawa Favours Smaller Wireless Players Over ‘Big 3’ in 2019 Spectrum Auction Rules

According to the rules for the March 2019 auction of 600 MHz spectrum licences published yesterday by Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), the federal government has granted a significant advantage to smaller wireless players over incumbents Rogers, Telus and Bell in next year’s spectrum auction, The Financial Post is reporting.


In order to increase competition and affordability, ISED says it will set aside 43% of the 70 MHz of available spectrum for potential new market entrants and smaller regional competitors, such as Freedom Mobile, Videotron and Eastlink. “This is an important step toward more choices, lower prices and higher quality cell phone services for Canadians”, said ISED Minister Navdeep Bains.

The decision will give smaller companies a leg up in the auction for a particularly valuable block of airwaves, specifically the 600 MHz frequency. This band can carry signals over long distances and penetrate buildings, making it highly desirable in urban and rural areas.

“ISED first proposed the set-asides to “address issues of market power” when it launched consultations on the auction last August. It said the incumbents – each serve about 30 per cent of Canada’s 31 million wireless subscribers – “likely have the means and ability to prevent other service providers from acquiring spectrum licences in an open auction.”

It’s moving ahead with the proposal despite pushback from BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp.”

Last week, the CRTC called on the Big Three to provide cheaper data-only wireless plans to consumers, but stopped short of forcing incumbents to open up their networks to smaller wireless players, for the purpose of reselling airwaves as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).