Industry Canada panel to tackle CRTC issues

Analysts agree that the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel could be the jolt that the CRTC needs in order to better prepare Canada for widespread adoption of Voice-over IP technology.

Industry Canada first announced the creation

of such a panel in the last federal budget. The ministry confirmed the names of the panelists on Monday: Gerri Sinclair, a director of the Canada Foundation for Innovation and former GM of Microsoft Network Canada; Hank Intven, a partner at Toronto law firm McCarthy-Tetrault; and Andre Tremblay, former CEO of Microcell Telecommunications Inc.

A representative from Intven’s office said it was too soon for him to comment on the panel’s mandate. Larry Shaw, director general of telecommunications policy at Industry Canada, said that the particulars of how the panel will work together have yet to be determined. “They’ve been given terms of reference and they’re fairly broad in scope. It will be up to the panel on how they want to tackle it. I’m sure they’ll be looking for input from people.”

A press release from Industry Canada said the panel will “conduct a review of Canada’s telecommunications policy and regulatory framework and make recommendations to make it a model of 21st century regulation.”

Shaw added that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is a “key stakeholder” and will be interested in the panel’s feedback and conclusions.

Among the topics of immediate concern to the panel will be: unwanted telemarketing, wireless number portability and empowering the CRTC with direct fining authority. The panel should also add the future of Voice-over IP (VoIP) to that list, said Iain Grant, managing director of SeaBoard Group, based in Montreal.

Grant said his research firm had called for the creation of such a panel in a report it published in December called “Old bottles, new wine.” A panel was necessary, given the CRTC’s preoccupation with “the legacy concerns of the 90s,” he said.

“If you look at the Industry Canada panel recommendations, they want it to be more forward-looking. We don’t need to have chicken gizzards to be able to tell you what’s going to be the issue in the next couple of years: access and VoIP.”

The CRTC will benefit from the advice of a group that’s more in touch with a user perspective, said Roberta Fox, president of consulting firm Fox Group Inc., based in Markham, Ont. “The CRTC are bureaucrats and government employees who understand the legal and sometimes the engineering views of some of this technology and the policies. I think it’s critical to have an unbiased, neutral business voice,” she said.

Fox noted that another customer-driven body, the Canadian Competitive Telecommunications Alliance, will see the light of day later this year and could also help steer the CRTC towards the future of telco services. VoIP will be the technology to shape that future, she said.

Elroy Jopling, analyst with the Gartner Group, praised the CRTC for doing an effective job of administering telecommunications policy in Canada, but supported the creation of a critical voice.

“If you just left it to the CRTC to do their own navel-gazing, you may not get too far,” said Jopling. “These three people (the panel) aren’t going to be the ones to make up the minds of Canadians, but are hopefully conduits to find out what’s out there and get a pulse of the enterprises, consumers and the vendors themselves.”

This isn’t the first time the government has created an independent review body for Canadian telecommunications. The National Broadband Task Force, for example, was appointed in 2001 and made up of 33 private sector members. It released a report in the summer of 2002 recommending an infrastructure that would allow all Canadians access to a high-speed Internet connection.

The Telecommunications Policy Review Panel has been charged with creating its own report on telecommunications issues by the end of this year.

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