The theme of this year’s Canadian Telecom Summit was developed a year ago, long before anyone had heard about a strange new virus. “Transforming our Digital Lives: Managing Disruption in an Intelligent Connected World” turned out to be more appropriate than we ever could have imagined.
The world has transformed, with the virus induced lockdowns serving as a catalyst for everyone to try to maintain a semblance of normality through digital connectivity. And of course, that meant that we also had to transform the conference into a digital online format, leveraging the intelligence of our connected world.
As the first virtual Canadian Telecom Summit wraps up, let me share a few initial reflections.
Each year since his appointment as Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, the Honourable Navdeep Bains has delivered an address to the Canadian Telecom Summit. This year’s address can be viewed in the embedded video.
It is always a challenge for conference organizers to confirm the participation of so many leading industry stakeholders. In some ways, the virtual format may have made it a little easier, enabling digital participation for many of the speakers over the three day event. Over the past three days, speakers and delegates participated from around the world, joining the conference from their homes and offices using their broadband connections.
As a telecommunications event taking place in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was somewhat appropriate for The Canadian Telecom Summit to use the same technology upon which so many of us have relied to stay in touch with family, friends, schools and workplaces for the past 8 months. Still, I’m looking forward to the return to face-to-face meetings, with the frank, off-the-record discussions and unscheduled meetings over coffee or cocktails.
Looking at the participants at this year’s event, no one has a better understanding of the importance of universal connectivity; no group of people have done more, invested more, worked harder to introduce solutions to make telecommunications accessible to as many Canadians as possible.
Years before anyone thought kids might be learning from home, Canada’s communications sector developed programs to get connected computers into the homes of low income families with school-aged children. And as the pandemic was declared earlier this year, the industry took action on its own.
In his address to The 2020 Canadian Telecom Summit, CRTC Chair Ian Scott said, “No one asked you to do so. Government certainly didn’t tell you to do so. You did so with the knowledge that what you were doing was the right thing to do.”
He listed some of the actions of the industry participants:
- You kept retail locations open for appointment-only visits for customers who needed in-person support.
- You put a halt to service suspensions and disconnections for customers who paid late or who weren’t able to pay their bills at all.
- You worked with customers to make payment arrangements that made sense for them.
- You waived fees for data overages or removed data caps, and removed late-payment penalties.
- You offered free channel previews and waived fees for educational content that was normally subscription based.
- You donated devices and service plans to schools, students from low-income families, hospital workers and patients, and at-risk populations such as women in shelters.
- Broadcasters created new content for distribution and gave away free airtime to local businesses that were struggling to survive.
“Those actions speak loud at a time when our digital lives have been transformed. Canadians depend on the services you provide to manage their way through this great disruption and to stay connected with their friends and families, their co-workers and their civic institutions.”
In his remarks, Minister Bains referred to these industry actions as well. He closed his address saying, “I want to close by saying that these have not been easy times, but they have shown just what Canadians and our industries are made of. At no time have I been more proud of being the Minister of Industry. Thank you for your partnership.”
Fitting words to close this year’s event.