Bell Says Cellphone Prices ‘Declining Rapidly’, Now ‘Not the Right Time’ for MVNOs

Bell Canada spoke at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) public hearing on wireless today in Gatineau, Quebec, and told commissioners there’s no need for ‘aggressive’ mobile virtual network operator (MVNOs) plans right now.

According to The Canadian Press, Bell Canada CEO, Mirko Bibic, said any government plan to impose MVNOs on incumbents would be ‘aggressive’.

Bibic emphasized Bell is currently building up Canada’s communications infrastructure through more fibre optic and faster 5G networks. Any intervention by the CRTC could put these investments at risk.

“Those are two fundamental things for the next generation of the Canadian economy,” Bibic said, adding, “We should not be taking risks with the pace and extent of 5G deployment in Canada.”

Bibic also said wireless prices in Canada are “declining rapidly” and “now’s not the right time” for MVNOs.

Bell also gave credit to Videotron in Quebec and Shaw’s Freedom Mobile for lowering wireless prices and making the company compete.

Claire Gillies, president of Bell Mobility, said “I think we have to give credit to the work that Videotron has done,” citing how “Quebec is a great example of where a regional carrier has really risen to the occasion.”

As for Freedom Mobile, Bell gave a shout out to the latter for its Big Gig data plans which debuted in 2017, offering unlimited data without overages, which the ‘Big 3’ had no answer to, at the time.

Bell was also asked by CRTC vice-chair Christianne Laizner why Bell, along with Rogers and Telus, launched ‘unlimited’ data plans last summer, hinting the calculated move was one to get ahead of the public hearing.

In response, Bell’s chief regulatory officer, Robert Malcolmson, denied the unlimited plans were linked, saying they “had nothing to do with the regulatory proceedings,” and “It was one of many responses to what’s increasingly a competitive marketplace.”

Malcolmson said when Freedom Launched its Big Gig plans, incumbents responded. When a “national carrier” (Rogers) launched an unlimited plan, the market also responded, in what he described as “indicative of the level of competitive intensity we see,” which is “benefitting consumers.”

Shaw’s Freedom Mobile Does Not Support MVNOs, Either

Yesterday, president of Shaw’s wireless division, Paul McAleese, testified to the CRTC the company’s Big Gig plans forced ‘Big 3’ providers to lower prices and shake up strategies. Shaw argued against MVNOs, The Canadian Press reported on Tuesday.

“MVNO resellers could never replicate this level of innovation and differentiation, given their dependence on the Big 3’s networks,” said McAleese.

Shaw also said the Commission’s announcement of mandated MVNO access was a “shock”, because it came before an important spectrum auction last year. Subsequently, the CRTC announcement “caused changes to our auction plans”, said Trevor English, Shaw’s chief financial and corporate development officer, including “pulling back on ambitions to expand into new markets.”

Canada’s Competition Bureau spoke yesterday as well, citing how MVNOs could harm regional carriers in how they could compete versus the ‘Big 3’, and make it harder to have at least four facilities-based carriers competing in each market.

Tomorrow will see Telus speak in front of the CRTC, while Rogers will have its turn next week.