The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has recently ruled that the country’s four major mobile network operators, including Bell, Rogers, Sasktel, and Telus, are now mandated to allow regional competitors access to their mobile networks on a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) basis. This decision is expected to foster competition and drive down costs for customers.

Following the ruling, these major Canadian operators now have 90 days to negotiate MVNO access agreements with smaller providers. In case no agreement is reached within this timeframe, the CRTC may intervene to help facilitate a deal. CRTC chairperson Ian Scott mentioned in a statement, “While there are encouraging signs that prices are trending downwards, we need to accelerate competition and more affordable options for Canadians.”

It is important to note that the newly introduced hybrid MVNO approach only grants access to regional players that own their spectrum and networks but does not apply to smaller players without such investments (i.e., true MVNOs). The CRTC will reportedly consider moving to a full, broad-based MVNO model if the hybrid model fails to produce the desired results.

The debate over whether the CRTC should open up the Canadian mobile ecosystem to MVNOs has been ongoing for several years. In 2020, the CRTC announced a review of the wireless market in Canada as surveys revealed that most Canadians believed their mobile bills to be higher than those in other countries. This review led to discussions about granting regional mobile operators access to major operators’ networks on a wholesale basis, potentially giving customers more choices.

However, these suggestions were met with criticism from companies like Telus, Rogers, and Bell, which argued that the Canadian mobile market was already competitive enough and that the introduction of MVNOs could disincentivize network investment. Despite these concerns, the CRTC decided to proceed with a facilities-based MVNO access model in 2021, announcing an initial draft of the new policy in 2022. Operators were invited to suggest revisions to the policy by May.

With the deadline now passed, the CRTC is moving forward once again, urging operators to be quick and fair in negotiating MVNO access. Ian Scott explained, “We are one step closer to implementing our policy that will enable regional providers to offer wireless services in areas where competition is limited. This will help provide more affordable options to millions of Canadians while increasing competition. We expect the large providers to negotiate in good faith and come to an agreement as quickly as possible with regional wireless providers.”