We got it wrong

“I’ll be frank: we got that initial decision wrong.”

It isn’t often that a government official uses clear language to acknowledge mistakes, but this is precisely how CRTC Chair Ian Scott addressed the elephant in the room when speaking at The 2021 Canadian Telecom Summit earlier this week. I think it is worthwhile including a lengthy excerpt directly from the text of his speech.

Another matter that has attracted a great deal of attention and commentary is our decision that set the final wholesale rates for aggregated high-speed broadband access services. Obviously, and as you know by now, we reversed course on implementing the rates we set in 2019. Rates, I will add, that were never implemented in the marketplace.

I’ll be frank: we got that initial decision wrong.

There were unquestionably errors in the initial decision. We are not infallible, and we could not ignore those errors once they were properly identified. We have always said we will review any decision if a party submits an application. Legislators anticipated that the CRTC may sometimes make mistakes or base its decisions on an incomplete record, and for that reason included the review and vary provision in the Telecommunications Act.

When a party submits an application asking us to review a decision, we address the issues in question seriously, fairly and in an independent manner. Because no one benefits from uncertainty in the market.

The work we at the CRTC do is not always popular or easily understood, especially when it comes to the costing of wholesale services. We recognize that. But I will say that in the process of reaching a decision—be it on rates for high-speed access services or any other matter you care to name—the process we follow is always based on sound administrative-law principles. We build a public record, our expert Commission staff analyze the evidence and Commissioners – all of whom share equal voting rights – make decisions. And we do all of this with the public interest foremost in mind.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of this high-speed access decision, some remain focused on perceived winners and losers. We, however, have moved on. The industry continues to evolve and move forward, and we’re looking at far bigger and frankly, much more productive things. Our focus is on the multitude of threads—the multitude of proceedings before us, if you prefer—that we are currently weaving together to create a policy framework that fosters more competition in the marketplace in order to reduce prices for consumers.

Those threads include more than our mobile wireless and high-speed access decisions. They also include our ongoing work in developing our high-speed access framework across Canada, including in the North, as well as a variety of issues relating to detailed technical and policy matters.

We’re looking at these matters, and others, with a goal of building a comprehensive regulatory approach that supports sustainable competition and balances the various perspectives of all stakeholders. Regulatory certainty, after all, is important to everyone. It’s important to consumers, who want better services at lower rates; to competitors, who want to explore opportunities to serve new markets; and to incumbents, who want the capacity to invest in, and expand, their services. That’s why we are focused on getting it right.

A few minutes earlier, the Chair had said “Although aspects of both of our mobile wireless and high-speed access service decisions are being appealed to Cabinet and the courts, the Commission is convinced of the validity of our approach. Both are helping to lay the foundation for the continued growth of smaller service providers and new entrants into the market. Both are helping to support sustainable competition that will ultimately lower what Canadians pay for their telecom services. And both are helping to build confidence in the marketplace.”

The appeals can work their way through the system. The reality is that the federal government has consistently affirmed and reaffirmed its support for sustainable, facilities-based competition, providing appropriate incentives for investment to upgrade networks and extend the reach into unserved and underserved communities.

Canada’s future depends on connectivity.

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