Canada's Wireless Policy: More choice. Lower prices. Better service.

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Canada's Wireless Policy

More choice. Lower prices.
Better service.

When it comes to wireless services, Canadians have been clear: They want more choice.

As of summer 2015, the amount of spectrum available to provide mobile services to consumers has grown by almost 60 percent since early 2014. This is the largest amount of spectrum ever released in such a short time in Canada, allowing Canadians and their families to benefit from the latest technologies and world-class services. From January 2014 to May 2015, the Government held three major spectrum auctions to help put more of this valuable public resource into the hands of wireless companies.

The auction of 2500 MHz spectrum, which ended in May 2015, gave wireless companies the additional spectrum they need to continue to improve service as consumer demand for wireless offerings rises. It provided advantages for Canadians living in rural areas, who will benefit from better wireless broadband service offerings as a result of the auction.

In March 2015, the Government's auction of valuable Advanced Wireless Services-3 (AWS-3) spectrum was held. It included provisions to increase the amount of spectrum held by new competitors. These new competitors emerged as the winning bidders on most of the AWS-3 spectrum in the auction, putting more of this valuable public resource in the hands of those companies that need it to compete.

The two auctions in 2015 built on the momentum from the 700 MHz auction, which ended in February 2014. These high-quality airwaves were made available to carriers to provide Canadians with high-speed wireless services on the latest technologies. Consumers were the big winners in that auction. A fourth wireless service provider obtained spectrum in every region of the country, delivering on the Government's commitment to encourage more competition in Canada's wireless industry.

In 2006, 98 percent of mobile spectrum was held by Canada’s largest wireless companies. By May 2015, new competitors will have an opportunity to hold more than 25 percent.

Canadian consumers have been clear that they expect lower prices from telecommunications providers. As part of the 2008 wireless auction, the Government set aside a portion of the airwaves for new competitors to give Canadians more choice. The Government's actions on spectrum and other telecommunications issues have had a positive effect: there is more competition today, and wireless prices have fallen on average 22 percent.

The average price for wireless service decreased by 22 percent between 2008 and 2014.
Source: Average price of wireless services in Canada,
Wall Communications Report, 2014

Since 2008, additional spectrum auctions have furthered progress on lowering wireless prices for Canadians by providing more spectrum for all players, but particularly for new competitors.

The 2500 MHz auction featured spectrum caps to further encourage competition, making it easier for new wireless companies to obtain the spectrum they need to grow their networks.

The AWS-3 auction, meanwhile, included a large set-aside of spectrum for new entrants, strict controls on transfers of this spectrum and a streamlined auction process. AWS-3 spectrum will deliver fast, reliable service on the latest smartphones, tablets and mobile devices.

And thanks to the 700 MHz spectrum auction, wireless companies now have new opportunities to further develop their services and provide Canadians with more choice.

Those auctions were all successful, because they were designed to put the interests of Canadian consumers first.

The Government has also taken other measures to lower prices. In 2014, it passed legislation to cap wholesale roaming rates. On , the CRTC announced that it will regulate wholesale roaming rates that Canada's three largest national providers can charge other wireless carriers. These rates take precedence over the legislated rates. With domestic roaming rates capped, Canadian consumers will benefit from more competition in the wireless market.

The Government has also legislated to end pay-to-pay billing practices, the fee for receiving a bill in the mail, in the telecommunications sector. Any company that breaks the rules faces fines of up to $15 million. Ending this unfair practice will prevent Canadian consumers from paying extra to receive paper bills.

These are just some of the ways our policies support Canadian consumers and put more money back in the pockets of hard-working Canadian families.

As outlined in Digital Canada 150, the Government has an ambitious plan for making Canada a leading digital nation by 2017. Key to a successful digital economy is modern network infrastructure, which increasingly means wireless connectivity. To deliver on this, the Government's announcement to release more high-quality spectrum will further enable wireless companies to improve their services.

This builds on the Government's commitment of $305 million to extend and enhance broadband Internet service for Canadians in rural and northern communities.

Commercial Mobile Spectrum: Graph showing megahertz of spectrum released over time, increasing from 50 in 1983 to a projected 248 in 2015.
  • In 2006, 98 percent of mobile spectrum was concentrated in the hands of Canada's largest wireless companies. As of summer 2015, new competitors now hold approximately 25 percent of total mobile wireless spectrum. This is the largest amount of spectrum ever released in such a short time in Canada, allowing Canadians and their families to benefit from the latest technologies and world-class services.

The results of the 700 MHz spectrum auction will allow successful bidders to offer high-speed wireless services on the latest technologies. AWS-3 spectrum is ideal for delivering fast, reliable service on the latest smartphones, tablets and mobile devices, and the 2500 MHz spectrum will enable enhanced wireless Internet services for Canadians living in rural areas, while also providing mobile spectrum for use in more densely populated parts of the country.

A path for mobile services in the 3500 MHz spectrum band will provide more mobile capacity where demand is high while maintaining existing fixed-wireless Internet services. The decision to enable use of the AWS-4 spectrum band will further support competition in mobile wireless services for Canadians, particularly in rural and remote areas.

In 2015 we also sought comments on releasing a new band of the TV spectrum at 600 MHz, which carries signals well over long distances, for mobile use while allowing Canadian over-the-air broadcasters to remain on the air. A decision on that process will be announced at a later date.

The Government has also introduced new enforcement powers, including administrative monetary penalties, to ensure companies are playing by the rules and to better protect Canadian consumers.

Our actions and policies will ensure that the wireless industry has the spectrum it needs to deliver next-generation services that Canadians demand.

Get the facts about Canada's wireless policy

Promoting More ChoiceClick or tap to find out more
In 2006, 98 percent of mobile spectrum was concentrated in the hands of Canada's largest wireless companies. By May 2015, new competitors will have an opportunity to hold over 25 percent of total mobile wireless spectrum. Wouldn't it be nice to have more choice?
Find out more.
Taking Action to Improve ServiceClick or tap to find out more
The Government's Digital Canada 150 plan is a vision for a prosperous, productive Canada making full use of digital technology.
Find out more.
Clear Spectrum Auction RulesClick or tap to find out more
The rules for spectrum auctions were designed to assist all new competitors and to support competition in the best interests of Canadian consumers. These rules were put in place following extensive consultations with industry and Canadians.
Find out more.
Protecting Your PrivacyClick or tap to find out more
Canada has strong privacy laws to ensure our citizens' personal information is safeguarded. These laws apply equally to all organizations that collect such information in Canada. The laws prevent any organization from disclosing personal information except with consent or when permissible by Canadian law.
Find out more.
Listening to CanadiansClick or tap to find out more
The Government has consulted extensively with Canadians on the future of Canada's wireless sector. The message has been consistent and clear: Canadians want more choice, lower prices and better service. The Government's policies have been designed to achieve this, resulting from years of working and consulting with Canadians and stakeholders. Find out more.
More Jobs in the Wireless IndustryClick or tap to find out more
Between 2008 and 2013, the total number of jobs in Canada's wireless industry increased by 24 percent. In fact, according to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, demand for skilled specialists is so great that post-secondary institutions are creating programs specifically to land jobs in the industry.
Find out more.

Key dates—What you need to know about the AWS-3 and 2500 MHz spectrum auction



12:00 noon (ET) on January 30, 2015

Deadline for receipt of applications to participate in the 2500 MHz and/or AWS-3 auctions and 100 percent of the pre-auction financial deposits.



February 5, 2015

Publication of the list of applicants for each of the auctions, with information on beneficial ownership, affiliated entities and associated entities.



February 13, 2015

Publication of final list of qualified bidders for each of the auctions.



Beginning February 26, 2015

Auction preparation for qualified bidders.

  • Industry Canada will hold an information session for qualified bidders.



March 3, 2015

Deadline for sealed bids for the AWS-3 auction.



March 6, 2015

Announcement of Provisional Results for AWS-3 Auction.



April 14, 2015

2500 MHz auction starts—opening of bidding.

  • Web-based bidding takes place via secure specialized software at a location of each bidder's choosing.



—Announcement of Results for 2500 MHz auction

We heard you, Canada

This is an important step in the right direction for those, like WIND, who believe Canadians deserve true choice and competition in wireless. Today's announcement shows that Prime Minister Harper's Government is serious about competition and serious about consumers.

—Simon Lockie
Chief Regulatory Officer, Wind MobileMobile Syrup, December 18, 2013

What Canadians have to fear from more competition in their pricey phone market is unclear.

—The Economist, September 7, 2013

[Minister] Moore, his predecessors and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have been pretty consistent in their position – they believe they have the right rules in place to encourage more wireless competition.

—Peter Nowak, journalist, blogger
Blog, September 3, 2013

I commend the government's unflinching commitment to consumers by holding the course on the wireless competition policy.

—Anthony Lacavera, CEO, Wind Mobile
Globe and Mail, September 3, 2013

The new Minister of Industry, James Moore, is strongly resisting the rent-seeking arguments of the Big Three and promoting the interests of Canadian consumers by encouraging greater competition in the marketplace. Fortunately for us, he understands the difference between business interests and the national interest.

—Christopher Ragan, Associate Professor, McGill University
Globe and Mail, August 27, 2013

Canadian consumers don't buy the industry spin—they want lower wireless prices and they know that means stopping the big three from shutting out competition.

Consumers Association of Canada president Bruce Cran, in a Public Interest Advocacy Centre news release

The public already appears to believe wireless prices are too high and supports the government's efforts to encourage more competition in the market.

Abacus Data CEO David Coletto, in The Wire Report (subscription required)

...High cell phone prices…are acting as a dead weight on job creation and economic opportunity across the country. executive director Steve Anderson, in Ottawa Life Magazine

Right now, we pay some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for some really horrible service, and that one way or the other needs to change. executive director Steve Anderson, to CBC News

With Canadian wireless prices still among the highest in the G7, Canadian consumers hope they can trust the government and CRTC to take action.

—Michael Geist
Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law, University of Ottawa
Toronto Star, October 3, 2014

Unless decision-makers at the Competition Bureau, the CRTC, or elected representatives like Industry Minister James Moore take bold action to open our [wireless] networks and free them from Big Telecom's control, Canadians will continue to face some of the highest prices in the industrialized world.

—Josh Tabish
Blog, October 3, 2014

Wireless and Internet costs are soaring, which is clear evidence the market is not working by itself. There has never been a greater need for regulatory intervention in telecommunications, and you can't have that without a regulator.

—Peter Novak
Blog, September 29, 2014

Government action timeline