#CTS17: Opening keynote address – ISED Minister Bains

The opening address to The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit was delivered by The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. The following is my transcript of his address.

Thank you very, very much for that kind introduction. And thank you Mark Goldberg and Michael Sone for your leadership and all that you do in terms of really helping promote the telecommunications sector. And it’s great to be here this morning, and it’s just, as I was talking to my team and driving here for this particular Summit, I realized it’s just slightly outside the boundaries of Mississauga-Malton, the constituency I represent. So, for me, I am going to say welcome to Mississauga-Malton for those of you who are out-of-town. And thank you for inviting me to kick off this year’s summit.

As you know, your sector has been at the forefront of our digital revolution.

In fact, Canadians were pioneers, starting with the Communications Research Centre. It established the first international connection to the precursor of the Internet. Who would have predicted then that high-speed Internet would become the backbone of a global and digital economy?

Increasingly, the prosperity of Canadians depends on their access to high-quality, high-speed Internet. Affordable wireless and broadband services are no longer luxuries. They aren’t luxuries we should take for granted; they are basic and essential tools for all Canadians,regardless of where they live.

They need this service to do business, learn new skills, and more importantly, build communities.

So I’m here today to talk about the strengths of this really critical sector and how we can work together to ensure that Canada remains a global leader in telecom technologies.

And I also want to talk about areas where this sector can improve and what those of you in this room can do to help.

So, first of all, let me start off by thanking you.

Because of your investments, Canada has some of the world’s most advanced and efficient telecom networks. Very high-speed Internet is available to more than three-quarters of Canadians. That’s up from 2011, when only a quarter of Canadians had this service. As well, virtually all Canadians are covered by the latest wireless technologies. And Canada’s wireless networks are fast. They rank second among G7 countries for average connection speeds. And Canadian telecom network investments (and this again is a point of pride) exceeded $56B between 2011 and 2015. So these high speed networks enable Canadians to do more online, whether it’s buying and selling, collaborating on work projects, or staying in touch with their kids and grandkids in other parts of the world.

These networks turn consumers into producers, observers into participants and users into innovators. So our government understands that Canadians want three things from their telecom services.

  • Quality. Is the service fast enough to do what I want it to do?
  • Coverage. Is the service available where I want it to be?
  • and lastly, Price. Is this service affordable?

These three areas are clearly where providers need to compete and that’s why our Government is doing our part to promote competition and investment. The goal is very clear. We want to improve quality, coverage and price for all Canadians.

So, to improve quality, we have doubled the amount of spectrum available for next-generation wireless networks. That means Canadians will have access to faster, more reliable networks, regardless of traffic load.

And to expand high-speed Internet coverage, we recently in our budget Budget committed to 500 million dollars for the Connect to Innovate program. This program will build the digital backbone that enables Canadians in rural and remote communities to have access to high-speed Internet. Up to 300 communities across Canada will benefit from this program. And, I am delighted to say that Canada’s Internet service providers have expressed overwhelming support for this program. You know, Connect to Innovate is heavily over-subscribed because of your interest. And that means our government can select the best proposals with the greatest benefit to consumers. And that’s great news for Canadians in rural and remote communities.

But there’s still more to do. For example, too many Canadians still feel like they are being left behind, either because they live in parts of the country where high-speed Internet and fast wireless networks are still not available, or because they can’t afford to pay for those services.

Only about one in four Canadians in rural communities has access to high-speed Internet. But access isn’t the only challenge.

The bigger barrier is price, which are especially high for low-usage cellphone plans. Subscribers pay more for basic cellphone service in Canada than for similar services in the United States and the United Kingdon. I get letters regularly, just like my colleagues do, from Canadians who are concerned that they are not receiving the best possible prices and they are being priced out of the market. People like the father of three, who’s struggling to keep up with the high cost of his family’s cellphone bills, which keep rising every single year.

Low-income Canadians spend a higher share of their household income on cell phones and internet bills than high income Canadians. So it’s not surprising that only six out of ten low-income households in Canada have Internet access. By contrast, virtually all households that earn $125,000 annually have it.

The digital divide is unacceptable and it represents a real barrier to continued prosperity for all Canadians. You know, every child who’s unable to do school assignments or download music online is one less consumer of your products and services. Each one of these children is potentially one less software developer for your industry, and one less job creator for our country.

We need every Canadian to be innovation ready. Ready to spot opportunities, imagine possibilities, discover new ideas, start new businesses and create new jobs. All Canadians need access to high-speed Internet, regardless of their income level, or postal code. Until we bridge this digital divide, Canadians will not reach their full potential.

Some of you have taken first steps to address the issue, as mentioned earlier.

In particular, I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Rogers and TELUS who have introduced a service that charges low-income households ten dollars a month for basic Internet.

More providers need to follow their lead and our government is doing its share.

That is why, in our most recent budget, we proposed to invest up to $13M to facilitate all service providers (that’s everyone) to offer these programs to low-income families. In fact, our government would like to see more package options and price points offered to all Canadian families, particularly in the wireless sector.

Other countries have benefited from service innovations that support low-cost options for consumers as well.

Innovations such as Wi-Fi first applications have created a new low-cost business model in the wireless market. This particular model depends far less on routing signals through commercial wireless networks. Instead, Wifi based service providers route phone calls and data primarily through Wifi networks. It only falls back on a commercial wireless network when customers are out of Wifi range.

South of the border, Republic Wireless offers such a plan for as low as US $15 per month.

This new Wi-Fi first model could benefit Canadian consumers as well, especially those with low incomes who are not well served by existing plans. So, ladies and gentlemen, middle-class Canadians and those working hard to join them, are concerned about the rising cost of their Internet and cellphone bills. And I’ve mentioned that I’ve heard this from constituents and Canadians from across the country. They deserve more affordable options. They deserve more options and choice.

That’s why our government is taking action. To that end, I am directing our national telecommunications regulator to reconsider one of its recent decisions and launch a new proceeding. On March 1st, the CRTC issued rules for regulated wholesale roaming by wireless providers and this decision excludes Wifi based providers from access to regulated roaming services. And that effectively prevents Wifi based providers from offering their low-cost plans to consumers. And this lack of choice does not benefit Canadians and for this reason, I am directing the CRTC to rethink its decision and reconsider the Wifi-first model. This model could provide Canadians with more choice and affordable prices. As the CRTC looks at this model, I will also ask it to maintain a strong investment environment that supports, and I want to be clear about this, that supports facilities-based competition.

That’s how Canadians will benefit from faster more reliable services across the country.

But that’s not all. Fees that providers charge to unlock cellphones are a major irritant for consumers as well and this is an issue again that I’ve heard directly from Canadians. Last year, Canadians paid nearly $38M to have their phones unlocked. I know that the CRTC is looking at this issue, and our government will closely monitor the results of the CRTC’s review.

We will continue to do everything possible to promote more competition and choice for consumers.

To that end, I’m pleased to announce today that our government has made changes to its licensing process for satellite-based providers of high-speed Internet. This action will encourage these next generation providers to enter the market. That’s good news for Canadians living in rural and remote communities, because new low-earth orbit satellites have the potential to revolutionize the delivery of rural broadband.

Our government will continue to manage spectrum in ways that benefit all Canadians, because the goal is to improve the quality and capacity of our wireless networks. Especially since Canadians have a never-ending love affair with these wireless devices – trust me, I have 2 daughters – which has triggered an explosion in demand for more data and faster networks.

Demand is also surging as advanced devices merge with networked sensors and software, which is ushering in the age of connected cars and the Internet of Things.

And again, that is why our government is making low-frequency spectrum in the 600MHz band available for wireless service providers. The 600 band will improve the quality and range of wireless coverage for Canadians. In particular, it will extend more wireless signals to Canadians living in rural and remote communities.

And let me be clear about our approach to the 600MHz auction. It will provide an opportunity to support more competition, lower prices, and encourage investment.

But that’s not all. For Canada to be a world leader in innovation, our country needs to develop and use emerging technologies, such as 5G wireless networks. The 5G market is expected to be worth $36B globally by 2020. Canada must be ready to compete. 5G would allow Canada to become a global leader in emerging technologies such connected cars and smart cities, both initiatives that this government supports.

That’s why I am pleased to launch a public consultation on releasing spectrum to support the development and deployment of 5G mobile networks.

That’s how Canadians will have access to faster, more reliable networks, regardless of traffic loads.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no difference anymore between the digital economy and the rest of the economy.

The digital economy is the economy.

For that reason, our government is taking steps to reflect Canada’s digital economy. We will review the Telecom and Broadcasting Acts as we announced in the most recent budget. These two acts were written before the Internet became an ever-present part of our lives. These acts need to be examined through the lens of current and future trends of technology. But above all, we must respond to the changing needs and expectations that Canadians have.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage and I will work together to review both of these acts. The goal is to position Canada to be a global in the digital economy. That’s how we will create better jobs and better business opportunities for all Canadians. That’s how we will encourage more Canadians to be developers of content and content creators for the Internet.

Our government looks forward to co-investing with you in the digital future.

Thank you very much.

Minister Bains and I discussed aspects of his address for a further 10 minutes, captured in the accompanying video.

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