The new Conservative government began putting its stamp on telecom policy in mid-June when it tabled a proposed policy direction instructing the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to rely on market forces as much as possible and regulate telecommunications only where necessary.

Maxime Bernier, the federal Industry Minister, announced the move at the Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto. He said the government was acting on recommendations of the Telecom Policy Review panel, which in its final report earlier this year urged policy direction to the CRTC to clarify ambiguities in the Telecommunications Act.

The proposed direction will be published in the Canada Gazette and debated in parliament.

Bernier said his government favours “using regulatory tools to deal with only those issues that market forces cannot address.”

In a brief press conference following his speech, Bernier said the proposed directive has to sit in both the House of Commons and the Senate for 40 days. In the meantime, he said, the government will receive comments from both the public and other players in the industry. After the 40-day period, the directive would be formally submitted to the CRTC.

Bell says it’s good for consumers
The telecommunications industry greeted the announcement with cautious approval. Lawson Hunter, executive vice-president and chief corporate officer of Bell Canada parent BCE Inc., told reporters following Bernier’s announcement that relying on market forces is the right direction in Bell’s view.

“I think it’s a good decision for consumers,” Hunter said. “I think it’s a good decision for the country over all.”

In a luncheon speech at the Telecom Summit, soon after Bernier’s, Darren Entwistle, president and chief executive of Telus Corp., welcomed the move, but said there is more to do. Canada needs comprehensive regulatory reform addressing not just telecommunications but broadcasting, he said.

Ken Engelhart, regulatory vice-president of Rogers Communications Inc., said he supported the principle of the announcement but had concerns about how it will be implemented.

“I’ve been fighting for competition my whole telecom career,” Engelhart said in an interview, but “I’ve never believed that you could have market regulation in a market where there is one dominant player.”

Chris Peirce, chief regulatory officer of MTS Allstream Inc., said the proposed policy direction “probably outlines a good year or more of work,” because the CRTC would then have to review its rules on mandated access to incumbent carriers’ wholesale services.

“We’ll have to see what the view of the regulator and the government is,” Peirce said. “This policy direction doesn’t really change anything in the here and now. It endorses an approach that the regulator would say it is already taking.”
—With files from Shane Schick

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