Maintaining consistency in policy

In its recent rejection of a Cabinet appeal of the CRTC’s Review of Wireless Services, Canada has maintained consistency in its approach to telecom policy, balancing the often competing objectives of extending the reach of networks, delivering world-leading service quality, and affordable prices.

We read “the Governor in Council considers that the Commission‚Äôs decision appropriately balances investment incentives to build and upgrade networks, and sustainable competition and the availability of affordable mobile wireless prices for consumers”.

It hasn’t always been that way. Over the past ten years, I have referred to Canada’s telecom policy environment as being like “Calvinball” at least a dozen times. “The only permanent rule in Calvinball is that you can’t play it the same way twice.”

That is hardly the way to provide policy leadership for an economic segment at the core of the digital economy.

In a dissenting opinion a few years ago, former CRTC Commissioner Candace Molnar wrote “Citizens and regulated entities alike deserve a Commission that is fair, predictable, and transparent.”

In upholding the CRTC’s decision, the determination was consistent with an Order in Council from August 2020, which declared, “Canada‚Äôs Future Depends On Connectivity”.

At that time, Cabinet said:

On the basis of its review, the Governor in Council considers that the rates do not, in all instances, appropriately balance the policy objectives of the wholesale services framework and is concerned that these rates may undermine investment in high-quality networks, particularly in rural and remote areas. Retroactive payments to affected wholesale clients are appropriate in principle and can foster cooperation in regulatory proceedings. However, these payments, which reflect the rates, must be balanced so as not to stifle network investments. Incentives for ongoing investment, particularly to foster enhanced connectivity for those who are unserved or underserved, are a critical objective of the overall policies governing telecommunications, including these wholesale rates.

Recall that CRTC Chair Ian Scott’s welcome letter, the Ministers of Heritage and of Innovation, Science and Economic Development said “The Government‚Äôs objectives are to improve the quality, coverage, and price of services.” At the time, I wrote “It is a delicate balance. Quality and coverage require significant levels of capital investment, especially in a country like Canada.”

Consistency in policy and regulation is critical for the investment community. “Citizens and regulated entities alike deserve a Commission that is fair, predictable, and transparent.”

Canadian telecom policy appears to be clear. Canada’s future depends on connectivity.

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