SAB-003-23 – Moratorium on Certain Spectrum Licence Transfers

March 31, 2023

Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada (ISED), on behalf of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (the Minister), is publishing this Spectrum Advisory Bulletin (SAB) to notify stakeholders of a moratorium on high-impact transfers of spectrum licences in commercial mobile bands. “High-impact” transfers are those that would have a significant effect on the ability of telecommunications service providers to offer wireless services in Canada.

This moratorium came into effect immediately as of the Minister’s announcement on March 31, 2023.

The Minister, through the Department of Industry Act, the Radiocommunication Act and the Radiocommunication Regulations, with due regard to the objectives of the Telecommunications Act is responsible for spectrum management in Canada, taking into account all matters that the Minister considers relevant for ensuring the orderly development and efficient operation of radiocommunication in Canada.

As such, the Minister has the authority to plan the allocation and use of spectrum and issue spectrum licences. Any proposed transfer of a spectrum licence from the licence holder to another party is therefore conditional upon the Minister’s approval.

For spectrum licences in commercial mobile bands, specifically, the Minister is guided in the assessment of proposed transfers by ISED’s Framework Relating to Transfers, Divisions and Subordinate Licensing of Spectrum Licences for Commercial Mobile Spectrum (the Framework), which is incorporated in section 5.6.4 of ISED’s Client Procedures Circular CPC-2-1-23 – Licensing Procedure for Spectrum Licences for Terrestrial Services.

The Framework sets out a number of factors for consideration, chief among them the ability of competitors to provide wireless services given the post-transfer concentration of spectrum. It is designed to support the policy objective set out in ISED’s Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada: to maximize the economic and social benefits that Canadians derive from the use of spectrum.

Since the introduction of the Framework in 2013, the spectrum landscape has evolved considerably. Today, the availability and affordability of high-quality mobile wireless service is fundamental to the effective functioning of Canada’s economy and society. Accordingly, ISED has more than doubled the amount of spectrum available for mobile use in Canada – from four bands in 2013, to ten bands at time of publication of this SAB. It will release even more spectrum with the auction of 3800 MHz-band licences starting in October 2023, and mmWave in 2024.

This moratorium on spectrum licence transfers is therefore introduced to maintain the stability of Canada’s wireless telecommunications sector while ISED conducts a review of the Framework, including a comprehensive public consultation process. The purpose of ISED’s review will be to ensure the Framework remains effective and relevant in the current context and the years to come. Given the changes to the spectrum landscape, ISED is also considering the review of other spectrum management policies and frameworks. More information on these reviews will be provided in due course.

While the moratorium is in effect, ISED will not consider any proposal, or combination of proposals, representing the transfer of 10 percent or more (by MHz-pop) of the total spectrum holdings of any company holding more than 100 million MHz-pop of commercial mobile spectrum, including the holdings of any affiliate, subsidiary, or parent companies (companies related by ownership or control). As such, ISED will not consider a series of proposals that would be high-impact in aggregate.

ISED will, however, continue to accept applications for the following, for decision based on assessment per the existing Framework:

  1. Subordinate licences;
  2. Spectrum exchanges, defined as the reciprocal transfer of spectrum of equal bandwidth covering the same licence area and in the same part of the radio spectrum (low-band, mid-band, or high-band, as defined by ISED); and
  3. Transfers meeting any of the following conditions:
    1. The parties (the existing licence holder and the proposed new licence holder) are related by ownership or control;
    2. The existing licence holder holds less than or equal to 100 million MHz-pop of commercial mobile spectrum in total (including the holdings of any companies related by ownership or control); or
    3. The existing licence holder holds more than 100 million MHz-pop of commercial mobile spectrum in total (including the holdings of any companies related by ownership or control) and the proposal, or combination of proposals, represents the transfer of less than 10 percent (by MHz-pop) of the existing licence holder’s total holdings.

ISED will also continue its assessment, per the existing Framework, of applications it received before the moratorium came into effect.

The moratorium will expire once a revised Framework comes into effect.

For questions, please email

Marc-André Rochon
Senior Director, Spectrum Operations Directorate
Spectrum Management Operations Branch
Spectrum and Telecommunications Sector
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada