#CTS18: Opening remarks

On Monday June 4, 2018, these observations were part of the opening remarks, delivered by Michael Sone and me, at The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit:

We are indeed living in heady times. The pace of technological change in networks, in devices, in computing power – it’s almost trite to say – is beyond astounding.

We humans are very good at building dynamic algorithms, designing smarter systems, and miniaturizing the heck out of everything, to make our lives more convenient & productive and wring ever-greater efficiencies out of our hectic routines. We are decidedly less competent at dealing with the ethical ramifications – let’s call them consequences – of what we’re able to accomplish in the lab. We’re great at research and development; not quite as good at sober analysis of what that portends.

It should be obvious that with every advance in technology, we encounter difficult choices. The commercialization of the Internet 20 years ago revolutionized human interaction, yet also brought with it challenges of security & privacy that were under-appreciated at the time, yet are all-too-obvious today. And we’re playing catch-up.

On the one hand, technology allows systems that harness Customer Experience Management to invest more power in the hands of consumers, yet that same technology has the ability to compromise our privacy – and then some. So, as many of you have likely thought to yourselves – just because we can do something, does that mean that we should? This applies to many walks of life – most markedly in the realm of biotechnology, but of course no less with ICT. Are we prepared to sacrifice autonomy on the altar of innovation?

Today, we are at the cusp of another revolution – one that is ushering in the era of Artificial Intelligence and next generation robotics. Self-driving vehicles have moved out of the laboratory and onto the streets. All has not gone smoothly. But is this something we should embrace or fear? Or both? Do we need to pursue this with gusto or take a step back and consider what we have wrought? Or both? No one has these answers but what we do have is the ability and opportunity to reflect & debate.

And that’s some of what we’re going to do here at The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit.

I have had the privilege of spending the past 38 years in the telecommunications industry, and I have had the opportunity to observe – and sometimes lead – tremendous change in the structure of this critical sector. It is challenging to be in a business that is constantly in transition, requiring continuous investment in new technology and continually facing disruptive threats. It is what makes it fun, right?

For 26 years now, Canada has endorsed a policy of encouraging facilities-based competition. For the past 12 years, in accordance with a policy announced by Minister Maxime Bernier at The 2006 Canadian Telecom Summit, the CRTC has been directed to “rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible as the means of achieving the telecommunications policy objectives, and when relying on regulation, use measures that are efficient and proportionate to their purpose and that interfere with the operation of competitive market forces to the minimum extent necessary to meet the policy objectives.”

Personally, I think there are opportunities for the CRTC to continue to improve its alignment with the Policy Direction.

In doing so, it might want to revisit its decisions on Videotron’s Unlimited Music service, on Mobile TV and on NFL Mobile. In each of those cases, no consumer has become better off following these decisions, while tens of thousands of consumers have ended up paying more or receiving less.

Contrast this with the FCC relaxing regulatory threats to AT&T’s mobile access to Direct TV, and the subsequent introduction of unlimited data plans by Verizon. When one service provider has a competitive edge with a product differentiator, the other market players develop competitive responses.

Many people in Canada want the market outcomes available in the United States, but we have been unwilling to adopt the regulatory freedoms that encourage those offers to emerge.

In my view, Canadian consumers would be better off if the Policy Direction is a guiding principle in decision making, not just a boilerplate afterthought in decision writing.

Most recently, we have seen waves of criticism levelled at the CRTC and the major carriers over the widely misunderstood low-cost data-only wireless plans. More regulation won’t deliver more competitive services. Let services providers compete – truly compete.

I’ll leave those comments to ferment in your mind until tomorrow afternoon’s Regulatory Blockbuster.

And now, it is time to look at Innovation and Disruption in ICT – reinventing and securing our business and personal lives, the theme of this year’s conference.

For the first time since 2008, my opening remarks didn’t include a reference to one of my most common recurring themes.

The Canadian Telecom Summit is taking place through June 6 in Toronto.

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