Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Canada - Opening up telecom market to foreign ownership expected to take time

[cp] While Canada's cellphone industry is opening up to new competition, consumers shouldn't expect foreign players to be setting up shop soon to offer them even more choice any time soon.

The big Canadian telecom players said Friday they aren't expecting any quick changes to open up their industry to more foreign competition and analysts agreed.

"None of the American wireless carriers are in financial shape to invest in a foreign wireless carrier," said Sascha Segan, lead analyst for mobile devices for the PCMag Digital in New York.

Competition in the U.S. mobile phone industry is "very intense" and there would be more interest in buying up regional American carriers, Segan added.

Verizon, which sold its 20.5 per cent equity stake in Telus six years ago, declined comment on any interest in entering the Canadian market.

"Frankly, when you see acquisitions going on right now, it's either companies consolidating or companies snapping up developing world carriers where they see a lot of potential growth," said Segan.

German-based Deutsche Telekom, which has more than 100 million customers worldwide, couldn't be reached for comment. U.S.-based AT&T, with 85 million subscribers, also couldn't be reached for comment.

Montreal-based Bell Canada (TSX:BCE) and Telus of Vancouver (TSX:T) noted the lack of detail from Ottawa on how it's planning to open the telecom industry.

"Whether we support, whether we oppose, whether we give qualified support depends on what the details are," said Mirko Bibic, Bell's senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs.

"But we certainly have no objection to a review," Bibic said from Ottawa. "When something happens, we definitely want and intend to be involved."

Apart from repeating the government's commitment to ensuring "Canadians can benefit from increased competition and investment in the telecommunications sector," the budget Thursday had little to announce beyond the removal of foreign ownership restrictions on satellites.

Telus's Michael Hennessy said global carriers may not be interested.

"There isn't a strong appetite anywhere, I think, in the world in the middle of this recession to get into rapid expansion," said Hennessy, senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs.

Hennessy said while Telus is "quite" open to the loosening of foreign ownership rules, it's also pleased the government isn't rushing into a politically difficult issue.

"I think, maybe, right now the philosophy of foreign ownership may be outstripping the capacity of carriers around the world to expand," he said.

Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B) declined to comment on the matter.

New players that have entered Canada's wireless industry are Toronto-based Wind Mobile, whose parent company Globalive is 65 per cent owned by Egyptian telecom Orascam which the federal government accepted.

Other new players entering the Canadian market this year are Toronto-based Mobilicity and Public Mobile and Quebec-based Videotron.

In the United States, there aren't any restrictions on foreign ownership in the telecom industry, Segan said.

Verizon is 45 per cent owned by U.K.-based Vodafone and T-Mobile is owned by Germany's Deutsche Telekom.

Opening up Canada's telecom market to foreign ownership expected to take time

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