Finally, at last! Wireless competition



The previous government kept repeating the same mistake, and it was in good company. 1. Distribute wireless licences. 2. Fail to enforce interconnection (roaming) rights sufficiently. 3. Watch the new entrants go broke and be bought out by incumbents. 4. Repeat. I think there have been two complete cycles of this, under Liberal and Conservative governments. Now, finally, someone woke up and changed policy. A lusty cheer from this ragged survivor of losing many arguments about the need for “facilities-based” competition.

The Minister of Industry (or whatever they call it this week) announced that the CRTC would be required to review a decision that had disallowed the interconnection of wi-fi networks to cellular networks.

Speaking of the CRTC decision appealed from, Navdeep Bains said:

“And that effectively prevents Wi-Fi based providers from offering their low cost plans to consumers. This lack of choice does not benefit Canadians”.

The Minister also addressed that hoary myth of stifling investment in infrastructure, by saying he did not expect any new ruling by the CRTC would have that effect.

His speech is reported in full here.

Legislative review

Finally,  the Minister observed that “the digital economy is the economy”. (Bravo!)

For that reason, our government is taking steps to reflect Canada’s digital economy. We will review the Telecom and Broadcasting Acts as we announced in the most recent budget. These two acts were written before the Internet became an ever-present part of our lives. These acts need to be examined through the lens of current and future trends of technology. But above all, we must respond to the changing needs and expectations that Canadians have.

In that regard, I would refer the Minister and his policy people to the points made by Konrad von Finckenstein in the CD Howe review. I quote the former CRTC chairman:

  1. Any review of communications has to include the Radiocommunications Act which presently governs spectrum management and wireless communications. All communications, regardless of mode, should be covered by one communications act. The present division between wireline, wireless and cable communications predates the digital revolution and makes no sense in the age of the internet.
  2. The government has been very successful in the past in linking Canadian content to regulatory policies and deliberate subsidies. These policies were successful because spectrum was scarce and cable delivery could be controlled. With optical fiber and the Internet, scarcity is no longer an issue. Access control can no longer be used to subsidize Canadian content.
  3. It is essential that any new communication legislation be based on the centrality of the Internet. It is key to our modern digital economy and any legislation should be based on the concepts of net neutrality, seamless interconnection, fair competition, prevention of abuse and protection of privacy. It should be crafted independent of any thought about Canadian content.
  4. Legislation regarding Canadian digital content ought to concentrate on funding, promotion, discoverability and fair access by all creators without allowing any entity discretionary power to grant or deny.  Essentially a scheme similar to tax deductions ought to be employed. Any thought of regulatory subsidy by tweaking the communication legislation ought to be abandoned. It is mostly likely unenforceable at any reasonable cost and would only undermine the efficient working of the Internet.
  5. The existing overlap of ministerial responsibility is no longer required. One Minister should be responsible for content and the other for communications carriage. The only crosswalk of responsibility would be joint determination with the Minister of Finance if, and to what extent, the Internet can and/or should be taxed to support funding Canadian content.

New legislation incorporating these five points would place Canada firmly on the side of the Internet, make  governmental actions relevant to the world we find ourselves in, and achieve our cultural policies more effectively.

I agree with Konrad on all points except point one, and that is the notion that there must remain only one piece of legislation at the end of this review. On that I am indifferent. It could be two or three, I do not care. But on the question of the need for one review of three, not two pieces of legislation, I am firmly in agreement.

On the centrality of the Internet (point 3) to the legislative review, there can be no doubt. If the Internet becomes an obsolescent technological conception in fifty years, no harm will have been done. We can all engage in legislative review at that time. Just look at the Broadcasting Act, by way of contrast. It has been governing a world overturned for the last ten years by the Internet, and no one inside the subsidy system seems to have had their ideas disturbed in the slightest.

The CRTC only stopped calling the Internet “new media” about 2011, when the net (TCP/IP)  was nearly forty years old. Institutions are slow to adapt, but the time has come for some fresh legislative instructions.

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