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  • Ted Woodhead

Opinions are opinions and facts are facts

I recall watching a debate featuring U.S. Senator Daniel Moynihan and someone else who is probably lost to history. Something Senator Moynihan said I have carried with me throughout my career as a fundamental truth: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.".

Given that I subscribe to Moynihan's point, I have recently written a variety of posts in an attempt to call out what would appear to be an indication that we do indeed live in a post-factual world. I began with a piece trying to parse for readers the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's (CRTC's) largely positive "Annual Highlights of the Telecommunications Sector, 2022" report. I noted in that March 5th post, the shameful conduct of some of the Parliamentarians on the Industry Committee and their treatment of the representatives, including the CEOs of Bell, Rogers and Telus, who appeared before the Committee and who had the temerity to refer to the largely positive report by Canada's independent communications regulator. Ignoring the facts presented in the report, the Committee members repetitively pronounced upon on what in their minds are their own conclusive opinions about the industry. Those pronouncements were not fact, they were their opinions or partisan speaking points. I increasingly believe they live in a post-factual world.

Given that, I decided to take on the perhaps quixotic task of highlighting the data that show the true performance of the sector that are at variance with the preponderance of opinion. Industry representatives are constantly faced with anecdotal references to pricing and performance in other jurisdictions as if those are somehow a) accurate and b) conclusive of the matter. Industry critics have long pointed to Europe as the paradigm for perfect competition rendering superior performance and consumer benefit. On March 25th, I posted about the preliminary conclusions of the European Commission with respect to the availability and performance of European operators and their networks. Those preliminary conclusions belie the claims of domestic critics who point to Europe as an exemplar.

The conclusions drawn by the European Commission include, "The connectivity infrastructure of the Union is not yet ready to address the current and future challenges of the data-driven society and economy and the future needs of all end-users". In my post on March 25th, after examining the data provided by the European Commission and comparing it with the same or similar data published by the CRTC, I wrote "Canada is clearly outperforming Europe and it would appear the United States since the telephone companies have reported anywhere from 80+ to 90+ percentage completion of fibre availability across their networks, meaning that the vast majority of Canadians have fibre available to them whether they subscribe to gigabit speeds or not. An impressive competitive advantage". Of course all of this has been placed before regulators and parliamentary committees countless times to no avail because they live in a post-factual world, ignoring their own institutional facts and data to draw contra-indicated conclusions and contrary policies.

In a post on April 8th, I highlighted comments delivered by Ericsson's CEO Börje Ekholm. Ekholm has said in several recent fora that, "Europe's lawmakers are prioritising regulation over innovation, to the detriment of telcos’ scale and the ability of the industry to invest in new technology relative to the US, China and India." Ekholm's statement is an unusual one for an equipment manufacturer to make because of course equipment manufacturers make their money from selling their equipment to network operators. Europe's decades long fixation on creating multiple competitors in every market has come at a significant cost for scale and the ability to expand their networks and invest in the latest evolution of technologies, including 5G wireless networks, as well as fibre and the electronics that make it work. Ekholm's observation and concern is that whatever regulatory victory the European Commission was pursuing has ultimately been a pyrrhic one. When Ekholm calls on regulators to prioritize innovation over regulation, it is not only because he believes it to be wise and necessary advice, but because it is starting to hurt Ericsson in the pocket book. Unfortunately, regulators and policy makers live in a post-factual world.

In a post on April 11th, titled "Facts versus myth: Telecom Pricing in Canada", I highlighted a written undertaking filed by TELUS with the Industry Committee that included a plethora of data points demonstrating the impressive cumulative performance of the Canadian network operators in delivering top tier availability and value for consumers. Among other things, the data demonstrates that wireless prices declined 26.5% from February 2023 to February 2024, while economy-wide inflation rose by 2.8% according to Canada's independent statistical agency Statistics Canada. Without the impressive performance of the telecom network operators, economy-wide inflation would have been significantly higher. On the fixed internet side of the house, TELUS pointed again to Statistics Canada data that shows high-speed internet prices declined 13.2% from February 2023 to February 2024 and that high-speed internet prices declined 21.5% over the last five years. This is against a backdrop of historic economy-wide inflation of 18.1% during the period.

According to the Organization Economic Co-operation Development (OECD), despite higher costs, Canada has the 3rd highest level of capital investment per capita in the OECD, with operators in Canada investing 84% more than average among OECD countries across wireless and wireline technologies. Recall Mr. Ekholm's comments referred to above. I will be interested to see whether, when the INDU report is published following their recent consultation, it will include any of these independent agency data points or refer to them with favour. Many members of INDU live in a post-factual world.

I was very interested to see on April 30th, the issuance of the 16th edition of a comparative pricing report from Wall Communications that is perennially commissioned by the Ministry of Industry, Science and Economic Development Canada. The report confirms wireless pricing declines observed by Statistics Canada of 18+% in 2023 alone. For fixed internet plans, prices decrease across all service baskets in 2023 are consistent with data published by Statistics Canada earlier. Canada generally outperforms the United States and Japan in baskets that comprise the plans to which Canadian consumers subscribe. In several wireless baskets, European prices are the lowest versus international peers, in some case at a third or half the price of other comparator jurisdictions. Before you pack your bags for Europe though, remember the preliminary conclusions of the European Commission on the availability of networks and performance of European operators. As a reminder, it isn't good. As Mr. Ekholm has warned, there are costs to prioritizing regulation over innovation. Hopefully, Canadian regulators, policy makers and politicians will take note. The grass usually isn't greener on the other side. Will they favour facts over opinion or popular belief? They don't have a great track record in that regard, because they live in a post-factual world.



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