CRTC bats it out of the park

The page on the telephone era has finally turned. The relevant question is no longer the affordability and availability of the telephone, but of bandwidth, the substrate that allows everything. Yesterday’s decision of the CRTC on basic services marks the turning point, the closing of the public switched telephone network era. Rest in peace, PSTN. You served us well.

The CRTC has turned its regulatory efforts to making available and affordable access to the computer networks that link the world to one’s house. The Internet. 

As the Commission writes in its intro to the policy:

To help attain the universal service objective, the Commission will begin to shift the focus of its regulatory frameworks from wireline voice services to broadband Internet access services. As such, the following services – which form part of the universal service objective – are hereby basic telecommunications services within the meaning of subsection 46.5(1) of the Telecommunications Act (the Act): (i) fixed and mobile wireless broadband Internet access services, and (ii) fixed and mobile wireless voice services.

The CRTC set the speed objectives for uploads and downloads reasonably high. This was wise: bandwidth thought adequate today will seem wholly inadequate in 10 years, indeed 5 years. Imagine if a regulator of electricity generation  had set a limit or target on the number of light bulbs and electrical motors in 1920 and reviewed it every decade. Use of bandwidth will climb by orders of magnitude: this is one of the most easily predictable things in the world today.

The CRTC has also turned its attention to ensuring that funds are in place to assure the provision of the desired bandwidth, so that what we need to spread is subsidized just as, in an earlier era, we subsidized the spread of telephony. Says the Commission:

A third party will operate the fund at arm’s length from the Commission in a manner that is transparent and efficient. The fund will evolve within the broadband Internet funding ecosystem and complement other sources of funding and investment. For the first year of the fund, no more than $100 million will be distributed. This amount will increase by $25 million annually over the following four years to reach an annual cap of $200 million.

It seems to me that the terms of access to the fund must ensure that any networks built with it guarantee non-discriminatory access to them. In this way we can move telecommunications away from the closed silo model that large carriers want to something like that of pipelines, where oil is carried in a non-discriminatory fashion by any supplier. What is standard operating procedure in one carrier business is still seen as somewhat suspect in telecommunications.

The Internet revolution is not yet complete but it has found some champions in the CRTC.

The Chairman, Commissioners and staff  should bask in a few minutes of self-congratulation. They did right. Merry Christmas from them to us, and we thank them for their good works.

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