As the result of an appeal filed by Public Mobile and Telus, a judge has overturned the government's 2009 overruling of a CRTC decision that eventually allowed wireless carrier WIND Mobile to operate in Canada.
Around and around we go. The story began in 2008 when WIND Mobile, which is 65% owned by head of the Egyptian company Orascom Telecom, Naguib Sawiris, gained spectrum to operate as a new wireless carrier in Canada. After a review of the company's ownership structure, the CRTC rules that WIND was in violation of foreign ownership regulations. While Sawiris indeed owns a majority in the company, Canadian entrepreneur Anthony Lacavera serves as Chairman of WIND, and says he has the majority of the voting shares. Shortly after, Industry Minister Tony Clement overturned the CRTC's decision and granted WIND its license, as originally awarded. That was in late 2009, and WIND has been operating since December of that year. Now, more than a year later, the overturned decision has been, in effect, overturned. And we're back to the drawing board.
The court announcement came just about an hour ago, leaving WIND in the dark as to the state of its future.
This is nothing new for WIND. To say the company has dealt with a tumultuous journey up until this point would be an understatement. But the company has always managed to emerge successful. Indeed, Lacavera has expressed his confidence that the brand would not be shut down, but admits his disappointment with the decision.
"From the beginning, we have maintained that we are fully compliant with the rules," he says. "Industry Canada saw this clearly. Cabinet saw this clearly. This Court decision does not suggest that Cabinet got it wrong, only that Cabinet made two errors in explaining their rationale and characterizing the decision.
"We are currently examining our options," he continues, "but this is not over yet. We don't intend to back down. I am a proud Canadian, and WIND Mobile, like the entire Globalive group of companies, is proudly Canadian. Since 2009, we have brought on more than 250,000 subscribers who opted for wireless choice. We won't let this be a set-back for wireless competition in Canada and are consulting with our advisors to determine our next steps."
The ruling comes at an interesting time, when the industry is struggling with issues surrounding usage-based billing for broadband Internet. The CRTC has suggested implementing such a policy, and Clement has openly stated that he would overturn such a decision if made.
Could we see that issue follow a similar pattern?
Clement, an avid Twitter user, posted the following update to his account this afternoon: "We're studying ruling and examining our options. Our Government stands with consumers who want more competition."
One of the issues Clement has been examining for a new digital strategy in Canada has been adjusting foreign ownership rules in Canada. At the Canadian Telecom Summit last summer, several companies, including WIND, argued that foreign ownership rules were in need of a change, as Canadian startups find it difficult to raise funds through Canadian investors alone. Public Mobile has never objected to this, but feels the decision regarding WIND has been an exception to the rule, rather than a rule that applies to all.
For now, a 45-day stay has been granted, so WIND's services will remain up and running as usual until a final decision has been made.
Stay tuned for further developments as they become available.