A Competitor s View of Competition and Telecom Regulation in Canada

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1 A Competitor s View of Competition and Telecom Regulation in Canada Pierre Blouin, Chief Executive Officer MTS Allstream June 13, 2006 Check Against Delivery As many of you know, I used to be the President of Bell s Consumer Markets Division, a business providing wireless, Internet, TV and voice services to millions of consumers across Canada. But since December 2005 I have been the Chief Executive Officer of MTS Allstream o a unique $2 billion telecommunications business that is to Manitoba s consumers what Bell and Telus are to most of the rest of Canada but what is unique about it is that it is also the leading national competitor to the former monopolies in Canada s telecommunication business market. Today I d like to talk about competition: o What it means, what s at stake, and what is necessary in our opinion for it to exist now and in the future in Canada. 1

2 Given my history, I think I may have a unique perspective on telecom competition in Canada. Having been in the industry for 20 years, I know what the world looks like from the large incumbent s point of view, but now through MTS Allstream, I have also gained the perspective of a smaller national competitor. And what I have found, and what I m going to talk about today, is: o That in order for Canada to get the full benefit of competition -- particularly in the national business market -- competitors like MTS Allstream must be given fair and reasonable wholesale access to the public network infrastructure controlled by the incumbent providers. o To be clear, I am talking about the local network connections -- the local access roads that connect MTS Allstream s advanced national IP network to our customers. - They are a choke point for competition in the business market. But first let me tell you a bit about MTS Allstream, because I find the company is not very well understood by many people. 2

3 o MTS Allstream is Canada s leading national competitor in the telecommunication business market. o We have been in the market for about 100 years starting as CNCP, evolving with brands like AT&T Canada and for the past two years as part of Manitoba Telephone Services or MTS. o We employ over 6,000 people nation-wide, including over 2,800 outside of Manitoba. o We are present in every major city in Canada, and more than half our revenue comes from outside Manitoba. o In our incumbent territory in Manitoba, we are preeminent in mostly every part of our business, and continue to show strong growth in wireless, television and high-speed Internet. o In the national business market, we believe we are the first and leading competitor to Bell and Telus in their respective regions. o From our home territory in the prairies, we have built, grown and acquired our own unparalleled national IP-enabled network, bringing applications and networks together over voice, data, video and mobile platforms. 3

4 To compete be it at home in Manitoba or in the national business market -- we have built a tradition of innovation. By getting out in front of the market with innovative new products, technologies and services, we have won major contracts from customers like Bank of Nova Scotia, Blockbuster, Public Works Canada, Great West Life, AMEX and Labatts. o We were the first facilities-based long distance competitor the first entrant in the local market the first in Canada to offer frame relay service the first to offer Ethernet and the first to deploy a national IP-based MPLS network. o Just today we hit the market with Canada s first national IP Trunking product, setting the standard in voice and data convergence. This spirit of innovation is also evident on the consumer side of our business. o MTS Allstream was not only one of the first in Canada to offer broadband wireline TV to compete against cable, but we developed what I believe is the best broadband TV product in North America. 4

5 o It has allowed us to achieve 23% market share in the Winnipeg market in just over two years. o And we were the first wireless carrier in Manitoba to offer a high-speed wireless service known as EVDO. o In Manitoba we ve proven we can compete on the strength of our products and services, while maintaining pricing integrity even when facing others that are aggressively discounting. o We ve proven this not just for TV services, but also in the Internet, alarm and wireless segments where we ve achieved large market shares by being fast to market with service enhancements like 1X-EVDO or our unique 4 product bundle. So facing strong competition every day in all our markets, it shouldn t surprise anyone that we believe in competition. Competition drives innovation. o It forces players to step up their game and push hard on research and development. o It spurs value for customers because they benefit from faster deployment of new services. 5

6 In this respect, we agree with and we embrace the underlying freemarket philosophy of the Telecom Policy Review panel. But if you believe -- as we do that market forces drive companies to continually innovate and deliver good value then you must also believe that creating fair and sustainable competition is vital to Canada s economy. So then the question is, what drives fair and sustainable competition, and how do we create it here in Canada? A fair degree of competition is emerging today in the residential voice market as a result of the cable entrants. o With their own public cable network infrastructure which like the public telecommunications network was built many years ago under a guaranteed rate-of-return environment the cable companies are in a strong position to compete for residential local voice customers. In fact, much of what you ll hear over the next few days will be a debate over how much competition exists in the retail Consumer market and how fast it should be deregulated. 6

7 While that s a very important issue, the critical issue for MTS Allstream relates to serving the national business market. The key issue that will determine whether or not Canada wants fair and sustainable competition in this industry is wholesale access to the public network infrastructure, a network infrastructure which is currently controlled by the incumbents. That s our issue as the leading -- and one of the few remaining competitors. The potential for competition to drive the rapid innovation offered by IP and other emerging technologies will only be realized if the requirements necessary for sustainable competition are present. There are two key regulatory requirements necessary to ensure fair and sustainable competition in the national business market: 1. Cost-based access to the public network infrastructure controlled by the incumbents -- and yes this includes us in Manitoba. We are talking here about the local network that connects business customers to our national and urban network; and 7

8 2. Meaningful consequences imposed by the regulator on incumbents that fail to meet mandated quality of service levels for competitors like MTS Allstream accessing the public network infrastructure If these requirements are satisfied, competition and innovation in the business market will thrive. If not, competition and innovation will be in jeopardy. Achieving these two requirements is not a matter of giving anyone anything for free. It s simply a matter of establishing a level playing field for all service providers to the national business market. So if this is such a big issue, why don t you hear more about it? The short answer is, because the dominant incumbents have dominated the airwaves and there are only a few of us left. Now, to be very clear, MTS Allstream is also an incumbent in Manitoba, so we fully understand the incumbent desire for retail price deregulation. On the retail side, as we all know, the CRTC recently set the market share loss threshold for local residential telecom market 8

9 deregulation at 25%. o From my home region perspective, I can t help but say that s too high, especially because market share losses may go beyond 25% while an incumbent works its way through the forbearance process. o But while I don t particularly like the 25% number, it s difficult to argue with the regulator s underlying logic that striking a balance between quality of service and deregulation will help lead to fair and sustainable competition. o We will continue to work with the regulator and government towards more deregulation using the recent local forbearance decision as a good starting point. But in the national business market, where there are no duplicate local networks, competitors must rely on wholesale access from the incumbents in order to compete. o There, competitors like MTS Allstream must pay the incumbents for access to the public network facilities that enable the local connections to all the businesses across Canada. 9

10 o These facilities were built by former monopolies over the course of decades at a guaranteed rate of return o And while these networks have continued to be upgraded, they have been upgraded under the price cap regime, which also effectively provides a guaranteed rate of return. Our national network, by contrast, was built by MTS Allstream and its predecessor companies at a cost of about $8 billion, with no guaranteed rate of return and in response to the call in the 1990s for facilities-based competition. As we have all seen over the past decade, it is unsustainable for competitors to build free-standing competing networks. o Between 1992 and 2000, more than $17 billion was spent by over 20 companies -- including the likes of Riptide, Northpoint, RSL, and Axxent in the name of facilitiesbased competition. o Only two of them, Allstream and Call-Net, are still significant players in the market. The good news is that this historic market structure resulted in Canada having a world-class network for the delivery of services into our homes and businesses. 10

11 o This is vital to having a leading position in the global economy. But in order for Canadians to get the best innovations the market has to offer, competitors need fair access to that same public network for the delivery of new and competing products and services. o Not only is that the better way for the market to allocate capital, it s what drives real innovation. Under the current regime, incumbents control access to the public network infrastructure. o And where the CRTC has not established cost based access, the rates charged by incumbents carry mark-ups that regularly range from 50% to 300%. As a result, competitors often pay exorbitant retail rates, and often receive inferior service. This is inefficient in several ways. o It impedes the kind of competition that benefits customers with better and faster access to new products, services and technologies. 11

12 o And it redirects capital to the market participant with the least incentive to innovate. Wholesale access by competitors to the public network infrastructure is often treated as a peripheral issue because it is often drowned out in the call for deregulation of the Consumer voice market. But that doesn t mean it is not a serious flaw in our market structure. So here we are as a country, trying to create a free telecom market, trying to spur competitive behaviour and drive innovation but there is a massive roadblock in our way, at least for the national business market. To put this in perspective, last year MTS Allstream paid approximately $250 million in wholesale access fees to the incumbents. o That s more than we paid in salaries to our entire national Enterprise Solutions employee base of 2,800 people. Now, we recognize that a portion of that $250 million reflects the incumbents true costs plus a reasonable return. And we re fine 12

13 with that. What we are not fine with is the amount charged for access above their cost and a reasonable return -- an expense to us that runs in the range of nearly two hundred million dollars every year. This is a rather significant advantage for a regulatory regime to give to the incumbents over their competitors. Clearly, an advantage like this is not the path to fair and sustainable competition. We re not asking for a free ride. We are more than willing to pay cost plus a reasonable return. But the mark ups of up to 300%, that we have been paying for over a decade are plainly excessive. Under the current regulatory framework, our country s largest former monopolies are, in effect, the gatekeepers for competition. This means that - those with the most to lose from competition in the wholesale market often get to dictate terms to their competitors. This situation is present every day for MTS Allstream in the business market. Further complicating matters, many of the incumbents have consistently failed to meet the CRTC-mandated service metrics for 13

14 competitors accessing the public networks. o For this, the incumbents may pay million dollars fines annually to competitors like us, but we believe they treat these fines like a cost of doing business. o To explain, when we win new business, we must rely on the incumbent to make the local network connection. o If that connection isn t made properly or within a reasonable time frame, we, and our customer, suffer. o This is not a theoretical point. There are a number of instances where we have won business on the merits of our offering only to then risk losing it because of implementation problems due to poor service from the incumbent provider. Given that the incumbents in fact achieve most of their service metrics for their own business and retail customers, we can only assume this is not due to their inability to provide quality service, but rather a lack of proper incentives to do so. o This will be a limiting factor on competition and innovation for so long as it costs less to pay the CRTC fines for providing poor service than it does to just provide good service in the first place. 14

15 Over the past decade we ve learned a lot as a country about telecom competition what works, and what doesn t. o Facilities-based competition has failed as a spur to sustainable competition and resulting innovation in particular in the business market. o At MTS Allstream, we are not the only ones who have come to this conclusion. I suspect a lot of the old CLEC s and their investors reached this conclusion before they went bankrupt or closed shop. o The European Union has recognized the inherent conflict of dominant incumbents providing wholesale access to competitors and it now requires national regulatory authorities to ensure that competitors are provided access on a reasonable basis to a wide variety of wholesale network elements. In the UK, regulators are in the process of deregulating British Telecom s local retail services, enabled by British Telecom (or BT) having been split up into separate retail and wholesale divisions. 15

16 o The creation of a separate wholesale division is intended to ensure equality of service to competitors. o Competitors and BT Retail will both have the same prices, terms and conditions for services from BT s new wholesale network operator. o The U.K. has revised its regulatory framework to reflect the realities of network investment. o The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development came to a similar conclusion with respect to the importance of a viable wholesale regime. o And the CRTC recognized it in the local forbearance decision. We agree with most of the recommendations in the Telecom Policy Review panel s report, and I ll come to those in a minute. o But given the fundamental changes in the marketplace in recent years, including some major technology shifts, we had hoped the panel would embrace something much more progressive than facilities-based competition. 16

17 In fact, the CRTC got it right by mandating that incumbents cannot receive local market forbearance unless they provide fair access and adequate quality of service to competitors. o That decision takes the realities of the market and in particular the business market into account. Our point on wholesale access is this: o If innovation, productivity and competition is Canada s policy goal, then we cannot have a regulatory framework that allows the former monopolies in the market to also be the effective gatekeepers to competition. Without fair and sustainable competition through wholesale access, Canada is at risk of re-monopolizing one of the most important parts of the Canadian telecom industry, the business market. And if that happens, the pace of innovation in Canadian telecommunications will slow. So for us -- and for Canadian business fair wholesale access to the public network is the critical issue when we debate whether we want a strong, competitive marketplace. 17

18 o As one former Vice-Chair of the CRTC said: Competition and deregulation are not synonymous. He was right. As I said a moment ago, there are many recommendations put forth by the Telecom Policy Review panel that we fully support. o The report declares that we should rely on competition and market forces rather than economic regulation to the maximum extent feasible. We agree. o It also says that dominant behavior should be constrained to ensure competition has an opportunity to thrive and grow. We agree with that too. o The report correctly recommends liberalizing foreign investment restrictions, which would allow all players to seek funding outside of Canada in order to grow and compete. o It advises that there should be ongoing data collection and regulatory enforcement of industry service metrics. 18

19 o And it emphasizes the importance of multiple wireless players and access to existing wireless facilities. o We agree with each and every one of those recommendations as well. So, where do we go from here? o We have a market that is trying fast and hard to move along the spectrum from monopoly toward a free market. o We ve seen some successes with many segments of the market already fully deregulated, including long distance, data, Internet and wireless. o Other segments, arguably the more entrenched categories, are still on the journey to fair competition. o In these categories we ve seen many competitors fall by the wayside, unable to compete against the former monopolies. When you look at the issue of wholesale access by competitors serving the national business market, you begin to see that we re 19

20 at a crossroads. We re deciding as an industry, and as a country, what kind of telecom market we want for the long-term. If competition and innovation and enhanced national productivity are our true goals then Canada must embrace fair and sustainable competition by ensuring that competitors like MTS Allstream are given access to the public network infrastructure on fair and reasonable terms that are enforced. As we engage in this discussion over the coming months, we should stay focused on the market realities. o We should recognize Canada s experience with facilitiesbased competition. o And we should do our best to build on and benefit from the lessons learned elsewhere. As a unique Canadian competitor, MTS Allstream supports a procompetitive regulatory and policy framework that relies upon competitive market forces to the maximum extent feasible but that equally reflects the realities of the marketplace and that is aligned with the goals of fair and sustainable competition. Thank you 20

21 21

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