How Investment Rules Shape Canada's Communications Market

No set of government regulations, no matter the intent, always and everywhere have impact strictly confined to the problem the rules are meant to address. In fact, the unplanned and unexpected consequences can work to undermine the "solutions" the rules are supposed to achieve. 

Like many other countries, Canada has foreign investment rules that prohibit non-Canadian firms from owning a majority of shares of leading communications service providers. In Canada's case the rule is that no foreign entity can own more than 33.3 percent of voting shares in a dominant Canadian telco. 

On the other hand, foreign firms can own up to 100 percent of Canadian service providers with market share of 10 percent or less. 

Some Canadian telcos now think the rules are unfair. The rules, for example, can allow much-larger foreign telcos to get a foothold in the Canadian market by investing in smaller firms. On the other hand, the foreign ownership rules also mean that the large Canadian providers are not able to attract the same level of investment as the smaller firms. 

Rogers, Telus and BCE, for example, think the foreign ownership rules should be relaxed, so that every Canadian communications service provider operates under the same rules. 

At least by implication, such regulatory relaxation might also mean that restrictions on the amount of spectrum an incumbent can own, or bid for, could change. Already, some might argue, smaller upstarts could bring huge resources to bear in spectrum auctions, when their foreign parents have deep pockets. 

Oddly enough, rules designed to protect Canadian service providers might be having the opposite effect. 
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