Regulating on the fly

Regular readers know that I am not a fan of the ever changing rules for the Canadian wireless sector. I have called it a Calvinball approach on more than one occasion. Policy makers just seem to be making it up as we go, reacting instead of leading.

In April, Minister Moore said, “I wish we had moved on this file, on the roaming fees, much sooner, because it actually may have had a material impact on the scene right now in Canada’s wireless world.”

The fact is that all of these issues have been considered numerous times in public consultations associated with the wireless framework. The Minister’s regret is a powerful statement – one that may come under consideration in the litigation over the collapse of Mobilicity.

Agree with the need for intervention or not, legislative changes on roaming fees may be another example of half measures that might have benefited from a more complete review, had the enabling legislation not been buried in the middle of a budget implementation bill. For example, the roaming rates established by the legislation did not contemplate new entrant subscribers making out-of-country long distance calls. How would that impact overall consumer wireless rates?

But, as described in an article in the Globe and Mail on Monday, it isn’t just the wireless telecom world that sees on-the-fly policy making. Broadcasting regulation is now also being subjected to political interference.

In a speech delivered last Monday, the Prime Minister said his government was helping Canadians by letting them pay only for the channels they want, and stated he would oppose any “tax” on services such as Netflix and YouTube. Those are popular positions, which is presumably why an election-ready Harper is taking them without first letting the CRTC finish its work. But they are also self-contradictory, and based on ignorance of the TV business.

Next week, the CRTC will open the oral hearing phase of its review of wholesale mobile wireless services proceeding, perhaps exploring what other improvements can be made to the competitive wireless sector. Will tweets from observers of next week’s CRTC process trigger more regulatory interference from the government side of the Ottawa River?

As we prepare to celebrate our nation’s sesquicentennial, how do we envision Canada’s communications marketplace in 2017?

What is our vision?

What are the measurable objectives that we can set to ensure that we get there? What are the strategies that we need to put in place in order to achieve those objectives? What tactics are consistent with those strategies?

That should sound familiar. A year ago I wrote “Set clear objectives. Align activities with the achievement of those objectives. Stop doing things that are contrary to the objectives.”

We are years overdue for an overall telecom policy review. Increasingly, we are seeing an overlap between telecom and broadcasting issues coming before the regulator. Teksavvy’s requests in the CRTC TalkTV process and a CRTC decision under the Digital Media Exemption Order this past Monday demonstrate the need to re-examine separate laws to govern these increasingly overlapping communications industries.

Indeed, the Netflix challenge of the CRTC’s authority gives rise to another reason for the government to create an expert panel, charged with exploring the role of broadcast and telecom regulation in a complex digital era. Moving forward on such a panel would provide an opportunity for the new media jurisdictional crisis to subside and allow issues associated with digital media regulation to be explored by a panel of those able to consider the matter with calm consideration. Naming such a panel now would simultaneously provide an appropriate political cover for a government that could not want such headlines when it is facing an election next year. Above all, we are long overdue for such a comprehensive review. The report would undoubtedly be delivered post-election.

This evening marks the start of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, as we mark the start of the year 5775. It is a time for reflection, for reviewing what we did wrong over the past year and seeking guidance for doing better in the year ahead.

My office will be closed later this afternoon and on Thursday and Friday to mark the holiday.

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