A new direction for Canadian telecom

Canada plans to replace the two existing (and somewhat conflicting and confusing) Policy Directions with a single specific direction. The new proposed Policy Direction incorporates pretty much all of the 2019 Direction introduced by Minister Navdeep Bains, with a nod to the 2006 Direction from Minister Maxime Bernier.

The new Policy Direction is 6 pages long, contrasted with the Directions it replaces that were barely a page in length. It is far more detailed, and perhaps will mean that the CRTC will have to go beyond a boilerplate paragraph in each Decision to demonstrate conformance. In my opening remarks at The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit, I said, “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.”

The new Direction covers a range of issues:

  • Transparency, predictability and coherence
  • Efficiency and proportionality
  • Market monitoring, research and strategic foresight
  • Decisions based on sound and recent evidence
  • Timely proceedings and decisions
  • Decisions of an economic nature
  • Considerations for Fixed Internet Competition
    • Regulatory framework
    • Aggregated wholesale high-speed access service
    • Variety of access speeds and costs
    • Tariff setting
    • Equitable application of regulatory framework
  • Considerations for Mobile Wireless Competition
    • Mobile wireless competition
    • Revision to approach
    • Periodic review and adjustments
  • Approach to Consumer Matters
    • Consumer rights
  • Measures Supporting Deployment and Universal Access
    • Universal access
    • Funding mechanism
    • Considerations

It’s worth noting that the proposed Direction does not appear to contain a paragraph that corresponds to Paragraph 1b of the 2006 Direction: “the Commission, in its decisions, should demonstrate its compliance with this Order and should specify how those decisions can, as applicable, promote competition, affordability, consumer interests and innovation.”

Perhaps this will be added in during the review of the proposed Direction.

The process for issuing a Policy Direction to the CRTC is set out in Section 8 and Section 10 of the Telecom Act, which specifies a consultation process for public comment and review. Recall, in 2006 a Parliamentary Committee did not approve of the Direction proposed at that time. However, the process calls for a consultation with relevant committees, not approval by them.

The process dictates at least 40 “sitting days” between the time the proposed Direction is introduced (“laid before both Houses”) and when it can actually issued as an Order. That timetable puts us into the Fall of this year.

In 2019, I observed that the consultation period was actually productive, resulting in meaningful changes to the original Direction.

As always, we will be following this file.

Oh, yes. Almost in passing, the Minister rejected the various appeals of the CRTC wholesale internet rates decision:

We recognize the important balance that must be achieved between the need to invest in our networks and the need to promote continued competition and affordability. The wholesale rates decision made by the CRTC in 2021 is an attempt to correct errors made in 2019, and it makes permanent the rates that have been in force since 2016. The decision provides stability, and the government has determined that it will not alter this decision.

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