Timothy M. Denton

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Getting it right on 9-1-1

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The consumer agenda of the CRTC seems to be producing some important results for Canadians, and one of them lies in the area of emergency dispatch services, 9-1-1.

When I wrote my report back in 2013 on that subject, we were unable to establish the amounts that were collected for 9-1-1 by federally regulated carriers from you, the citizen. We still do not know, unless something secret has been done in the interim, how many millions of dollars are collected from telecommunications users by their carriers for 9-1-1. All we could do was calculate on the basis of assumptions, and the figure we are arrived at was about $148 millions across Canada, for 2012. This figure would cover only the telecommunications portion of the service, and it is an estimate only, however reasonable its assumptions.

This figure does not include the amounts provinces may levy for 9-1-1 services that they supply (police-fire-ambulance). Provinces collected, by our calculations, $65 million in 2012 for 9-1-1 from telecom consumers. (See paragraphs 205-206 of the Inquiry Report.)

In short, the  the amounts of money collected for 9-1-1 was and is unsolved. Further, we do not have any substantial knowledge of the performance we get from the carriers for that money. This is not to say the carriers are slack; from what I have seen they take their duties very seriously. Rather, in the matter of price- performance, we are without actual standards and we are without exact knowledge of how much is being collected for that performance.

The CRTC's Notice of Consultation 2015-305 addresses the second half of the problem - performance standards. What should they be? And if there are standards, then that implies there will be a system of measurement. As my colleague Bob Martin used to observe, engineers perform to specifications. Absent specifications you cannot measure performance.

That the CRTC is launching an inquiry into this issue should be a cause for celebration among those concerned with public safety. It shows the Commission is on the right track. Once performance standards are established, they have to be monitored, and once monitored, they may be adjusted. Moreover, having established what the money is being collected for, the Commission can then set its mind to figuring out whether we are paying a reasonable amount for the service. A more precise inquiry into the money transfers inevitably will follow.

Canadians have reason to be pleased with the Commission's work in this field.

 

 

 

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Tuesday, 19 November 2019
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