This consultation is not taking place in a vacuum. Several Canadian provinces have already reacted to consumer dissatisfaction with wireless contracts and terms of service and enacted their own consumer-protection legislation. Quebec, Newfoundland, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have all enacted new consumer protection legislation to assist consumers to understand the terms they agree to and to restrict the ability of cell phone providers to apply large penalties for cancellation.
Consumer advocates are happy. Cell phone contracts and practices have long been a significant source of consumer dissatisfaction. Complaints to various consumer ombudsmen have been flooding switchboards and mailrooms for decades.
SeaBoard, however, is less sanguine. We are less enthusiastic about regulation and law as market modulation technique, as a rule, and more keen to use public policy tools to foster a more competitive marketplace. We applauded, as an example, Industry Canada’s bold move to open the Canadian wireless marketplace to new challengers in 2008.
The new wireless competitors have done much to make the wireless marketplace a less expensive, friendlier, and less intimidating place for many Canadians. Confusing consumer contract issues have been countered with policies that do away with wireless contracts entirely. Monstrous malicious termination fees have been replaced by … nothing. You wish to leave Wind? To move on from Mobilicity? To put Public Mobile behind you? Go. Can’t be much more consumer-friendly than that.
Our counsel to government would be to intensify focus on the industry framework and use the policy tools available to buttress the competitive marketplace. Look at mandatory wholesale, proscribe tower-sharing and roaming prices and availability, extend spectrum exclusivity in the new 700 MHz band to the new entrants – these steps will do more to add balance to the marketplace, and more benefit to the consumer, than still more regulation.
That said, there is a case for a national regulatory framework, not as a replacement for a balanced market, merely as an interim step.