BCE chairman hammers AT&T on CRTC lobbying effort

BCE’s chairman says communications companies should focus on long-term results and promoting innovation to sustain Canada’s lead in the sector.

In a speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto Monday, Jean Monty admitted last week’s terrorist attacks on the United States had overshadowed the day-to-day activities that normally demand the IT industry’s attention.

“While it is appropriate for us to pause and to express our grief and our outrage, we must not bend to their original intentions,” he said. “Our continued focus on social and economic progress will ensure that our way of life will prevail and that we will not yield.”

Monty focused his talk on the evolution of the Canadian communications sector from Alexander Graham Bell onwards, praising the balance that was struck years ago between regulators and industry leaders. This monopolistic approach based on fixed returns was a great example of using the public sector forces to achieve public policy goals, he said.

“It was incumbent on industry to build infrastructure, not just in profitable urban centres like Toronto and Montreal, but also to plant poles and string wire across hundreds of thousands of miles in remote, and consequently, unprofitable areas,” he said. “This also allowed companies to invest in future technologies.”

To keep that momentum going, Monty advocated that companies stick to the big-picture view of Canada’s interest in the Internet economy, paying attention to the underlying forces that drive business success. “We believe all Canadians should have access to some form of high-speed Internet connection in the long term; we might debate the solutions resulting from the Broadband Task Force, but let’s not debate that goal,” he said.
Monty took the opportunity to touch on one of his favourite topics: the regulation of pricing for local services. The CRTC must be mindful of the need for investment as it develops its price-cap formula, he said, while lambasting AT&T Canada’s lobbying for access to Bell’s facilities at prices he said were below cost. “Should competitors be able to supply service to their customers, without contributing to the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure, especially when they do not have the obligation to provide universal service in Canada?” he asked. “This would be the farthest thing from a balanced approach. It would severely distort and curtail investment incentives from our industry, and impair some industry participants in a totally artificial way.”

While acknowledging the capital-intensive and risky nature of research and development, Monty called on the industry to develop an investment framework that would generate more innovation.

Monty said BCE would launch a slew of “convergence” initiatives over the next few weeks that would address both the consumer and business segments of the market, though he did not provide details.

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