Bell Canada has added a new wireline/wireless network usage study to its arsenal of weapons in the fight to convince the CRTC to adopt a freer regulatory model with respect to telephony. The study, Analysis of Local Residential Voice Network Usage, asserts that fully 20% of local voice traffic is now traveling on networks other than Bell’s wireline network in Ontario and Quebec. Bell, officials from which were not available to discuss the survey, doesn’t explicitly say that the numbers are an argument for a lighter touch from the commission, but the company’s findings fit into an emerging theme of calls to the regulator to open up the market for voice services. To study overall network usage, Bell put in back-end systems to measure local residential calling in its serving area, both wireline and wireless. Based on an analysis of traffic from January 1 to February 29 this year - about 1.25 billion minutes of traffic per week - Bell finds that significant calls are being made on a network other than the ILEC’s wireline network. The company finds that 88.6% of local residential voice traffic is carried over wireline networks, both its own and those of its competitors. Bell’s wireline voice networks accounted for 79.7% of the total local residential wireline and wireless network usage in Ontario and Quebec, which jumps to 90% when wireless is excluded. Bell’s share of total wireless network usage is 39.5%. The numbers are drawn from a sample of 22,000 telephone lines to estimate total weekly usage, and Bell says the relative error associated with its sample is +/- 0.1%, 19 times out of 20. BCE Inc. CEO Michael Sabia will likely use the numbers to bolster his case that consumers are adopting wireless and other platforms as an alternative to using the ILEC’s local phone service. For months, he has been calling for a review of Canada’s telecommunications regulations that are based on assumptions about the company’s monopoly stranglehold on local services. Bell’s reasoning for wholesale changes is that regimes such as the price cap and bundling regulations are increasingly outdated as the line between different technologies is increasingly blurred. While this report concentrated on the blurring of wireline and wireless usage, a recent survey commissioned by Bell from Decima Publishing Inc. affiliate company Decima Research Inc. shows that other platforms are also being eyed by the ILEC as avenues for customer migration (NL, Oct. 15/03). Following a speech at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce February 25, Sabia told reporters:"Today, from a policy of view, and let’s be clear this is a policy issue, not necessarily an issue of the regulation of the CRTC. This is about government policy. Today, it is very much focused on wireline as an independent silo, wireless as an independent silo, long distance as an independent silo, some Internet services as an independent silo, and our position is that those days are gone because technology has cleaned out and knocked down all those silos. Today, we live in a world of increasingly perfect substitution across all of these products and policy has to change so we can give consumers unbiased choice." Bell competitors, however, see things differently. Asked his thoughts on the wireline/wireless study, Canadian Cable Television Association acting president Michael Hennessy is blunt. "97% of Bell residential subscribers continue to pay $25-30 a month for local service, even with wireless," he says. "Ergo, they are not substituting yet. As long as there is no substitution there is no real competition and Bell continues to exercise market power. The 1% decline in access per year is likely to be second line substitution caused by wireless and high-speed (Internet). Bell has significant share in both markets which contributes to overall growth for the company. Keep your eye on the 97% - all the rest is smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that eight years of local competition has netted virtually no impact in the local residential market."