Timothy M. Denton

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The Prime Minister's Mandate Letter

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I have been reading the Prime Minister's mandate letter to Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Industry, Science and Economic Development. After pages of fluff (or quasi-religious ideology for those who believe it), we get  to the juicy stuff.

 

These are two of the Minister's objectives

 

  • Use all available instruments, including the advancement of the 2019 Telecom Policy Directive, to reduce the average cost of cellular phone bills in Canada by 25 per cent. You will work with telecom companies and expand mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) in the market. If within two years this price target is not achieved, you can expand MVNO qualifying rules and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission mandate on affordable pricing.

  • Award spectrum access based on commitments towards consumer choice, affordability and broad access. You will also reserve space for new entrants.

While part of me is somewhat reluctant to see direct numerical objectives set for the CRTC, another part of me asks: how could this goal of reduced prices be achieved without some fairly direct indicators of success. Like, for instance, move Canada from 37th in OECD rankings to, say 8th? Same difference really.

Meantime, the Commission proceeds to establish the terms of its hearing into MVNOs, https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2019/2019-57.htm 

As the Internet Society, Canada Chapter, will be speaking on the issue, I do not need to rehearse the Chapter's arguments. It is apparent that the Minister of Industry and the government generally have decided and publicly declared their preference for MVNOs. I cannot recall the government ever having made its views so publicly clear before. The Commission may have finally to accede to the government's wishes.

When I did some work for the Internet Society central a year or so ago, what struck me in reviewing telecom policy in various OECD countries and other modern economies was how boldly so many countries had intervened in telecom markets to get the results they wanted. The UK, France, the EEC, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Israel among others, had each in its own way intervened, and intervened repeatedly, to get the power balance right between the former monopolies and the newer  entrants, such as MVNOs. In Canada we last touched on telecommunications in 1994, twenty five years ago. 

Clearly to my mind the Canadian situation has reached a stage where government is feeling the need to take action. In this regard Canada's government is in good company. Many large and advanced economies in the OECD and elsewhere have already acted to increase competition by structural changes.

 

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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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