Conservative party leader hopeful wants to get the CRTC out of telecom regulation [Updated]

The Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission has made itself a powerful enemy. Maxime Bernier, a candidate for the Conservative leadership, stated at the Canadian Telecom Summit that the CRTC should be phased out.

“Presumably in order to protect competition, the CRTC was preventing some providers from really competing and offering better deals to consumers. That’s what I call a policy of false competition,” Bernier said in his address at the summit.

Bernier is a former minister of Industry and held the role of Opposition critic for Innovation, Science and Economic Development just a few months ago. He recently announced his candidacy for the leadership of the conservative party. He is currently serving as a Member of Parliament for the riding Beauce in Quebec.

During his address Bernier also claimed that the CRTC has stifled competition with several decisions, including the recent announcement that large network providers will be forced to sell space on their high-speed infrastructure to smaller rivals at wholesale prices. Bell petitioned heavily against the decision, saying it would impact competition and investment in new technologies.

He went on to say the the telecom industry is a mature, competitive market and shouldn’t be treated as a “playground for bureaucrats.”

“Canadian consumers are best served when telecom providers are free to compete and invest, not when bureaucrats tell them what to do,” Bernier went on to say.

With these claims, he introduced several proposals to supposedly improve competition in the Canadian telecom market. These include eliminating the mandated sharing of networks, relieve the CRTC of its role as a telecom regulator, hold spectrum auctions without preferential rules “so that everyone is on a level-playing field,” and opening the sector fully to foreign investments.

It’s important to note that American telecom companies have attempted to enter the Canadian market in the past. In 2013, when it was speculated that Verizon would make a spectrum bid for entrance into Canada, Rogers Communications Inc., Bell’s parent company BCE Inc. and TELUS Corp. launched a campaign in opposition of this entry, stating that a foreign company would have an unfair advantage.

While the Conservative government had previously voiced its desire for a fourth major telecom player in Canada, claiming it would increase competition and give consumers more choice, they eventually gave up on the idea.

“With an opening of the sector to foreign investments, we could have had a lot more competition. Real competition. Perhaps a big American or European company would have decided to enter the Canadian market, or buy a Canadian provider. The threat of such an entry would have been enough to bring competitive pressure,” said Bernier during the summit.

Not everyone agrees with Bernier’s point of view however. Yuval Barzakay, the CEO of Comwave, stated that rather than reducing variety for consumers, the CRTC serves to increase it.

“Comwave believes that there is a place for the CRTC as telecom regulator in Canada. The CRTC helps ensure that consumers have access to a variety of options for their telecommunications needs and that they are not forced to chose from only The Big Three. Sharing the networks is essential to ensure that not every provider is digging up roads and developing infrastructure to create new networks,” said Barzakay in a comment.

Canadians are among the largest consumers of data in the world. According to Bernier, this means a world class broadband infrastructure with the latest technologies is not only desirable, but necessary. He proposes that the federal Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development could take over the essential functions of the CRTC, essentially liberating telecom giants from the regulator’s grasp.

“Competitive markets don’t need government intervention to work. They only need to be free.”

[source]Canadian Telecom Summit[/source]