The Friday before a long weekend is probably not the best time to hold a rally, but a rally to build support for the big three telecom carriers in their war against Verizon’s possible entry into Canada? That was truly a bad call.
And yet, as I write these words, members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and the Canadian Auto Workers (now called Unifor) are getting ready to set up in the middle of downtown Toronto. “No to Verizon!” the poster reads, with an ‘X’ crossed out over the U.S. telecom giant’s name as though it were a ballot. This comes just a few days after Verizon reportedly began trying to buy out its longtime partner Vodofone’s stake in its wireless operation.
This is a $130 billion transaction which some analysts believe may diminish the chances of the company entering Canada and bidding in the forthcoming wireless spectrum auction after all. Though of course no one knows anything for sure, it’s worth thinking about what a Verizon-free Canada would mean, and what we’ve learned so far:
Incumbents are one of the most powerful political parties in Canada: Forget the Conservatives and their Liberal attack ads. The “Fair for Canada” campaign brought together major carriers to exercise their influence at an unprecedented scale and seemingly relentless vigor. If they can work this hard to coordinate their public relations efforts, why couldn’t they do more to satisfy Canadians’ desires for better pricing and network coverage?
Industry Canada needs a backup plan: As much as you could admire Minister James Moore’s tough-guy stance against the pressure from Bell, Telus and Rogers, it’s clear that the government’s hopes have been nearly as high as some consumers. Having failed to create a viable fourth national player following previous auctions, the possibility of Verizon coming in represented a chance to save face. Time to start thinking about how to empower the regional carriers and local competition if another foreign juggernaut fails to show interest in our spectrum auction.
Expectations have been irrevocably raised: Had the Verizon issue never developed, most everyday Canadians would probably never have taken notice of the next spectrum auction, or wondered whether anyone would rise up to replace the financially struggled incumbent alternatives we briefly enjoyed with Public Mobile, Mobilicity and Wind Mobile. The Fair for Canada campaign, meanwhile, suggests that consumers would be far better off with market that continues to be dominated by the established oligarchs. Should Verizon fail to appear, they’ll need to prove it.
We’ll know in due time whether the notion of entering Canada was just a “bargaining” chip Verizon was using with Vodofone, as some have described it. What this summer proved, however, is that everyone from the incumbents to Industry Canada are gambling over the future of quality wireless service across Canada. With or without Verizon, those are still important stakes sitting on the table.