Wind financier talks about the CRTC, telecom in Canada and what it means to have balls

Globalive, the telecom company that’s behind Wind Mobile, would not be possible without investment from Egyptian telecom/construction/IT/who-knows-what-else billionaire Naguib Sawiris. His $700 million investment and willingness to cut through CRTC red tape made Wind a reality, as he explained Friday in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

The refreshingly straight-talking Sawiris doesn’t pull punches when talking about Canada’s environment for competition, our protectionist regulatory policies and how backwards telecom is in general in Canada. Sawiris, who comes off as unabashedly arrogant, and looks Bond villain-esque, may be one of the most important players in Canadian telecom in coming years, and to hear him talk about his frustrations as an outsiders is quite interesting.

When you started looking at Canada’s telecom market, what did you think of the domestic players?

It was a joke. First of all, the penetration rate was stuck. Penetration rates in all European countries and the U.S. are at 100%, 120%. And it was at 60% here when we started. Fact number two, the ARPU—the average revenue per user—is, with all three players, the same. It was very clear that there was an opportunity there. Of course, we didn’t estimate the difficulties—the obstacles, rather—that were put in our way: all the CRTC processes and delays. It was something we did not expect to see in a modern country that is part of the WTO and is supposed to be encouraging investment. It was a big shock. And it has cost us dearly. If it was not for the Minister of Industry, who did the right thing in the end, we would have been in deep shit.

Do you see a day when Orascom and other global telecom players have more of a presence in Canada?

I think we will get credit for that—that we had the balls and the guts to endure all these agonies. And some of them remain. We are being confronted now with unfair competitive measures. Roaming is a seamless process in all the world. This is the only country in the world where if you roam on an incumbent, your phone gets cut off when you go from one area to the other. Everything we require them to do, they don’t do. They delay. And if we are, as the strongest new entrant, incurring all these obstacles, what about the smaller ones? Mobility. And what’s that other one? They will die. I call them dead-on-arrivals. So these measures are torpedoing competition. And the trick they have now is, one of the incumbents—without naming names—uses another brand to offer the same service with two prices for its consumers. It’s the same people, and they’re only offering this low price in the areas where we operate—depriving all these other customers of the same price.

Rogers, Telus and Bell all have discount brands.

Which means their objective is not to give good service and good prices to consumers. No, it’s to kill competition. It would be unlawful anywhere in the world. When we become stronger, we will hit back. And we will make pain, and they will suffer. Because we would have preferred for them to live and let live, but if they play unfairly, our day of revenge will come.

“Our day of revenge will come.” The only thing separating Sawiris from this guy is a set of bad-ass facial tattoos.

The full interview can be found here. Check it out, it’s a fascinating read.