It would be disingenuous of me to say that Freedom Mobile doesn’t have a point: after all, the CRTC’s 2018 Communications Monitoring Report states that Canada’s Top 3 mobile service providers (Bell, Telus and Rogers) have captured 92% of the revenue in the market. Casting these evildoers as “Monolith Wireless” is more than fair in this context:
I find Freedom’s current campaign devious, however, because Freedom is still part of the larger problem.
You may know that Freedom was once called Wind Mobile, and was created in a partnership between Anthony Lacavera and Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris. Once envisioned as Canada’s biggest hope for new competition in the mobile wireless market, the company was bought out in 2016 by…
…Shaw Communications, Inc.. While it is true that Shaw is a very minor player in the Canadian mobile wireless market, and is being congratulated for working to disrupt the stranglehold of the Top 3, it is still one of Canada’s major telecommunications players and is listed as Canada’s fourth-largest mobile carrier. In fact, separate of the scope of the mobile wireless market, Shaw is listed as one of Canada’s Top 5, which includes the aforementioned Big 3 and Videotron (who focuses entirely on Québec and the Ottawa region). Together, those companies have captured 74% of the residential internet market.
I have never been a fan of the “flanking” brands, all of which were purchased by existing market leaders, that winkingly present a separate corporate identity when, in fact, they’re all part of the same oligopoly. Freedom Mobile is Shaw. Koodo Wireless is Telus. Virgin is Bell. Fido is Rogers. Not only are the “Monolithic Wireless” companies dominating the market, but they are permitted to quietly operate distinctly-branded entities that are made to appear as if they are competitors, when they aren’t.
The larger issue here is one of media concentration, which is being studied in-depth by the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project (directed by Carleton’s Professor Dwayne Winseck). Their 2018 report shows that the Top 5 (the same as the CRTC’s set) now own 72.5% of all of Canada’s media economy (side note: Bell, alone, takes 28% of all revenue in the Canadian media economy). The study has been raising alarms for a long time about the increasing diagonal and vertical integration taking places in Canada’s media environment. From the executive summary of their most recent report: “Canada stands alone in the developed world on account of the fact that all of the main TV services in the country, except for the CBC and Netflix, are owned by telecoms operators.”
Putting all of this together then: I’m torn. While Shaw should be patted on the back for trying to carve out a bigger piece of the mobile wireless market and for calling out the colluding, regulatory-capturing oligopoly that rules it, we should also be mindful that Shaw is, itself, one of the major players that not only contributes to the problem but also engages in all of the same tactics as its “competitors.” Shaw may be pointing an accusatory finger at the Big Boy Table dominated by Bell, Telus, and Rogers…. but they’re only pointing from a short distance away, at the next table over. This marketing effort—shamelessly capitalizing on well-placed anger at Canada’s Big Three to help win business for Number Four—is a masterful piece of high-level misdirection.