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Sunday, September 29 • 10:10am - 10:45am
The Role of Regulation in the Market: Analyzing Canada's Wireless Code of Conduct Hearings

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This paper analyzes the ways that the terminology of the free market ? competition, consumer choice, economic incentives ? was mobilized selectively by Canada?s wireless service providers during the February 2013 Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) Wireless Code of Conduct hearing. This hearing was part of the Canadian regulator?s consultation to establish a mandatory code of conduct for Canada?s wireless industry, in response to increasing public discontent with ?the clarity and content of mobile wireless service contracts and related issues for consumers? (CRTC, 2012). Much of the public frustration was directed toward the ?big three? telecommunication companies that dominate the marketplace, sharing 90% of the country?s wireless subscriptions: Rogers, Bell, and Telus. The language of the public complaints tended to revolve around unfair business practices, price gouging, and poor customer service. In response, the telecom companies explained during the CRTC hearings that customers just don?t understand the economics of service provision and that Canadian wireless services are globally competitive.

Having attended the hearings and applied discourse analysis methods to the hearing transcripts, our data set has been approached from the hypothesis that free market language ? particularly around competition and consumer choice ? is frequently invoked because of its unquestioningly positive currency in both corporate and regulatory contexts. We analyze a number of key moments in the oral testimony of Rogers, Bell, and Telus, to examine how they specifically mobilized the language of the free market as a means of discouraging regulatory intervention. They talked about how Canada?s wireless services market was fiercely competitive, how consumers have a wide range of choices, how device subsidies function as economic incentives that help consumers to own the newest in mobile technology, and also how the implementation of a Wireless Code would pose operational challenges in this already competitive environment. But at the same time, each company?s representatives tried to support consumer empowerment to some extent, since it is a necessary corollary to their arguments for consumer choice. In maneuvering around this tricky rhetorical territory, we observed that in the less formal moments of discussion during the hearings, speakers often amended or even contradicted what they had said in the more formal part of their hearing presentations.

The contradictory ways in which each company tried to frame their consumers as empowered but simultaneously unable to cope with the changes required by the Code indicates that the companies mobilized free market language deliberately in order to minimize the impact of the Wireless Code on their existing business practices. We analyze this discursive strategy critically from the point of view of the ascendance of consumer as opposed to citizen framing, situated as part of a broader trend toward individualism in telecommunication regulation globally (Livingstone & Lunt, 2007; O?Neill, 2010). This paper offers a nuanced perspective on the discursive particularities of regulatory hearings in Canada, where speakers often drift between formal and informal modes of discussion that tend to reveal their underlying values and motivations. The paper concludes with some thoughts on how the analysis of this Canadian regulatory hearing can inform understanding of regulatory actions to balance citizen, consumer, and corporate interests in other jurisdictions.

References

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) (2012)
Telecom Notice of Consultation CRTC 2012-557. [online] [Accessed 23 March 2013].

Livingstone, S. & Lunt, P. (2007) ?Representing citizens and consumers in media and
communications regulation,? The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political
and Social Science, 611, pp. 51-65.

O?Neill, B. (2010) ?Media literacy and communication rights: ethical individualism in the
new media environment,? International Communication Gazette, vol. 72, nos. 4/5,
pp. 323-338.

Moderators
JC

John Chapin

Program Manager, DARPA

Speakers
CM

Catherine Middleton

Canada Research Chair, Ryerson University
Ryerson University -


Sunday September 29, 2013 10:10am - 10:45am
GMUSL Room 329

Attendees (6)