Speech Article from  Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Jean Pierre Blais at the public hearing to review basic telecommunications services in Canada

Gatineau, Quebec
April 11, 2016

Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman 
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Check against delivery

Good morning and welcome to this public hearing. Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting here today on traditional territory of the First Nations. I would like to thank the Algonquin people and pay respect to their elders.

At this hearing, the CRTC will review the basic telecommunications services that all Canadians need to participate in a meaningful way in the digital economy.

A changing world

The CRTC examined basic telecommunications services for the first time in 1999, and then in 2011. There is a need to review them again, given these services’ rapid, pervasive and unrelenting evolution.

Five years after the last review, we are now living in a digital age in which online services and wireless communications are of ever-growing importance in the daily lives of Canadians. They allow Canadians to keep in touch with one another, of course, but they also provide access to a wide range of online services, including health, educational, banking and government services.

Given the developments in this area in recent years, our objective for the hearing beginning today is to identify what has changed in terms of telecommunications services. This will enable us to determine whether the new reality warrants the CRTC’s intervention and, if so, what form this intervention should take. For example, the current regulations will be examined to see if they are still appropriate, whether they need to be modified or if new ones need to be created.

Many players

The CRTC is not, however, the only player in the Canadian telecommunications landscape. For mobile services, for example, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (formerly Industry Canada) is responsible for, among other things, spectrum allocation, as well as the coverage requirements surrounding the wireless networks.

The federal government’s recent budget announced investments to improve the availability of broadband Internet services across the country. These investments are in addition to the funding granted in the past.

On top of that, there are the financial resources that provincial governments, municipalities and band councils from coast to coast are devoting to broadband, not to mention the investments made by the private sector to improve and expand network coverage.

The CRTC must therefore take these players, and many others, into consideration when as part of its review of basic telecommunications services. Our role is clear and tightly framed, and our jurisdiction is well-defined by the Telecommunications Act. It is only by taking into account the stated policy objectives, our own jurisdiction and the evidence submitted to us that we can ultimately make an informed decision.

It was from this perspective and by taking into account the diverse range of players that the CRTC established the original objectives for basic service, for example, or the service improvement plans for telephone service providers.

It was also through this same lens that the CRTC approved the use of major telecommunications service providers’ deferral accounts to extend their broadband Internet services to a greater number of rural and remote communities. Between 2010 and 2015, this initiative extended broadband access to more than 280 additional rural and remote communities.

Let’s #TalkBroadband Internet

At the end of 2014, 96% of Canadians had access to an Internet download speed of at least 5 megabits per second upstream. This is good, but it also means that, conversely, 4% did not have access to this speed, which represents hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

During this proceeding, the CRTC will focus on the main issues facing Canadians with regard to the basic telecommunications services. We will also examine the role that the CRTC can and must play to ensure that these services are available to all Canadians at affordable prices.

Obviously, the future of these services is a matter that raises many questions, and even some strong feelings. More than 26,000 comments were received during the consultation process, and more than 30,000 Canadians answered a questionnaire on this subject. This hearing is further evidence of this. With three weeks of appearances, this is one of the most exhaustive hearings in the last 20 years, and one that has garnered the most interest, as much from the industry as from the public at large.

Change based on evidence

The CRTC must make informed decisions, based on solid evidence, while taking into account the real and reasonable needs of the population. It must also consider the anticipated outcomes and the market’s ability to adapt, given the available resources.

As it is crucial not to confuse “wants” with “needs”, the CRTC is asking parties to take a fact-based and objective approach to these discussions. As an administrative tribunal, the CRTC’s role is to give parties and panel members an opportunity to test and challenge points of view in an open and transparent proceeding.

It is also important to note that any target speed or service level that, in the course of the hearing, the CRTC finds to be ideal or a good measure of success would not necessarily guarantee regulatory action in this regard.

The CRTC therefore issues the following challenge to the parties: demonstrate to us, using evidence, that the public interest and the specific situation in each region justify action by the CRTC. Explain to us why market forces are currently insufficient to respond to the public’s needs.

Public participation 

As you know, the CRTC relies on exhaustive evidence and public records to make informed decisions in the interest of all Canadians. Without the active participation of Canadians, the CRTC’s processes would be neither representative nor effective. Therefore, I would like to extend my profound thanks to everyone who has taken the time to participate in this process up to now. I would also like to take this opportunity to once again ask Canadians for their comments. 

We invite Canadians to share, on our online discussion forum, their views on any of the topics discussed during the hearing. The forum can be accessed at www.crtc.gc.ca as of this morning and will remain open until April 28, the last day of the hearing. 

Many people are following our activities closely on social media. This is the ideal opportunity to be heard and express your opinions so that they are among the points of view that will be included in the public record. I would also like to point out that comments posted on Twitter or through a blog will not form part of the public record.

Process 

Finally, I would like to make a few introductions. 
 
The panel consists of the following people: 

  • Peter Menzies, Vice-Chairman of Telecommunications
  • Candice Molnar, Regional Commissioner for Manitoba and Saskatchewan 
  • Linda Vennard, Regional Commissioner for Alberta and the Northwest Territories 
  • Christopher MacDonald, Regional Commissioner for the Atlantic and Nunavut 
  • and myself, Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the CRTC. I will be chairing this hearing. 

The Commission’s team assisting us includes: 

  • John Macri, Christine Bailey and Sarah O’Brien, hearing co-managers;
  • Emilia de Somma and Amy Hanley, legal counsel; and
  • Jade Roy, hearing secretary.

I will now ask the hearing secretary to explain the procedure we will be following. 

Madam Secretary . . . 

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