Opening remarks from #CTS17

Good morning everyone and welcome to the 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit: Competition, Investment and Innovation: Driving Canada’s Digital Future.

GST Conferences was created to produce our inaugural conference in 2002, “Celebrating 10 Years of Long Distance Competition in Canada.”

It was originally going to be just a one-time affair. Our first conference in 2002 was a kind of a reunion for those of us involved in the regulatory battles of the late 80’s and early 90’s to create competition in Canadian telecom. It was Mike Binder, the former ADM at Industry Canada, who encouraged us to make this an annual gathering and we thank all of you – our speakers, our sponsors and our delegates – thank you for joining us each year and for the support that you have provided in bringing us to this 16th edition of our conference.

Next week, Canada will mark 25 years of competitive telecommunications with the issuance of CRTC Decision 92-12. There are still a few people, although a dwindling breed, that remember those heady times; today’s landscape of services, of providers, of modalities of communication looks nothing like it did in 1992. In 1992, service providers operated in silos – phone companies did one thing, cable operators another, broadcasters yet another – very little cross pollination in 1992 or even for several years hence. Television was analogue and monopolistic. Wireless connectivity was an ogopolistic luxury used with the cellular equivalent of the black rotary dial phones, which by the way were still in use in some quarters in the early-1990s. Smartphones were, well, dumb phones. Faxing was still commonplace. Data speeds were measured in kilobits per second; Gigbytes and Terabytes were unknown nomenclatures. Those lucky enough to be on that academic, egghead technology called the Internet, made do with the screeches of dial up connectivity – And they loved it, damn it!

Social media were still more than a decade away. Google was still vying with other search engines to see which would emerge dominant. The concept of Big Data was unimagined 25 years ago – at least by most. I remember John McLennan, a CEO of both Bell and AT&T Canada a various points, warning that if they didn’t shake off their complacency and start innovating , service providers were in danger of becoming the technological equivalents of hewers of wood and drawers of water – in other words purveyors of easily replicable commodities. Service Providers have, for decades, been repositories of mountains of invaluable information and were always sitting on Fort Knox. Today companies are falling over themselves in trying to harness the power of Big Data. It’s trying to figure out how to sift through it, exploit it, leverage its capabilities that’s new.

For those who have been regular attendees, you know that, since 2008, I have used these introductory remarks to call for our industry to tackle the challenge of increasing broadband adoption among low income households. Rogers and TELUS responded with their Connect for Success and Internet for Good programs, enabling hundreds of thousands of households to get online. Hopefully, more companies will soon join in so that all Canadian school kids, regardless of means, can have the tools they need to learn in a digital age.

In a few weeks, the term of the current CRTC chair will come to an end. These have been a challenging 5 years, marked by turmoil and uncertainty within the Commission and an unusual (and frankly, unnecessary) level of acrimony. We will soon have a new Chair, a new Vice Chair for Broadcasting and new Commissioners. I think all Canadians can look forward to the coming of this new era, bringing a fresh opportunity for leadership to emerge to Drive Canada’s Digital Future, through Competition, Investment and Innovation.

Not so coincidently, that is the theme of this year’s conference.

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