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CRTC Chairman Blais says more direct intervention may be needed in Canada’s wireless industry

Jean Pierre Blais

At today’s Banff World Media Festival in Banff, Alberta, current chairman of Canada’s telecom regulator Jean-Pierre Blais spoke at length on Canada’s wireless and broadcast industry, his legacy, and the importance of his organization.

Mere days before he leaves the helm of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Blais delivered prepared remarks, arguing that the CRTC’s recent actions to set targets for broadband access and to increase digital literacy are positive steps, but not enough.

“I can’t help but feel they only scratch the surface of the real issue at hand,” said Blais during his speech. “Thinking in government and indeed in industry—in this room—is still flawed. It’s focused all too much on traditional divisions between broadcasting and telecommunications. On the status quo as an operating principle. That’s not the future. Broadband is. Apps are. Quotas, tax credits and the way we all did business 20-years-ago are not.”‘

“Thinking in government and indeed in industry—in this room—is still flawed.”

He also noted that in the future, his predecessor and the CRTC may need to intervene in order to force more wireless competition:

“Unless things change, the CRTC will need to act to increase wireless competition, which in turn will lower retail wireless rates, raise data caps and spur further innovation. In the United States, wireless service providers do not share their networks, which results in excess capacity. Carriers lower retail prices to bring in more customers and offer unlimited data plans to use up this capacity. In addition, this excess capacity has led to a reseller market that is supporting many mobile virtual network operators (or MVNOs) that typically target specific consumer segments.”

On the subject of MVNOs, Blais referenced both the CRTC’s ruling that operators without their own airwaves — like MVNOs — cannot take advantage or roam on the networks of the Big Three Canadians telecoms, as well as innovation minister’s Navdeep Bains’s remarks at the Canadian Telecom Summit.

“The Minister of Innovation, Science and Development has implicitly opened the door to the abandonment of facilities-based competition,” said Blais, in reference to Bains instructions to the CRTC to revisit the subject of MVNOs.

In his speech, Blais further touched on the prevalence of Canadian network sharing as a benefit and a hindrance.

“I will not apologize for speaking the truth to power. That’s my job.”

According to Blais, the practice makes Canada’s networks efficient, but “due to several factors, including the high cost of competitive entry and because all network components are utilized, we have yet to see a level of competition that puts downward pressure on retail rates.”

Blais laid out three forms of intervention the CRTC could enact in the future, though he stated none were ideal: regulate retail prices, mandate wholesale access for MVNOs and review the impact network sharing among facilities-based providers has on competition.

In his speech, Blais also spoke about the need to modernize the CRTC:

“It’s been an involved and complicated process that has raised more than a few eyebrows. But let’s be clear: change — the kind of change that actually affects meaningful progress — should.”

At the tail end of his speech, Blais concluded: “I will not apologize for speaking the truth to power. That’s my job.”

Blais’s final day as the CRTC’s chairman is Saturday, June 17, 2017.

The federal government has yet to name Blais’s successor.

Source: CRTC

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