Christianne Laizner to the Conference and Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Association of Wireless Internet Providers (CanWISP)

Speech

March 27, 2018
Gatineau, Quebec

Christianne Laizner, Vice-Chairperson, Telecommunications
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Check against delivery

Good morning. I want to start my remarks by acknowledging that we are meeting on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation.

Thank you for inviting me to be part of your annual conference. I appreciate that so many of you made it to this first session of the morning. Given the early hour and the many late-night attractions the casino next door has to offer, I’m flattered that you’re interested in hearing what the regulator has to say.

I am here to offer up a little flattery myself. You occupy a very important niche in the marketplace – particularly in rural and underserved regions of the country. Millions of Canadians count on Internet service providers (ISPs) like you to keep them connected to the rest of the country and the world.

The CRTC has placed a premium on ensuring that reliable, affordable, high-quality telecommunications services are accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas across the country. That was reinforced in the Commission’s decision to make broadband a basic telecommunications service.

As part of that decision, the Commission announced a new funding regime that will focus on underserved regions in Canada. That’s something I know is of great interest to CanWISP members, given your participation in the CRTC’s hearing on the direction of broadband in Canada and the consultation on the new broadband funding regime. So, it’s one of the topics I want to report on today, as I bring you up to date on a number of CRTC activities.

I also want to touch briefly on wireless services, the importance of facilities-based investment, the implications of the 5G evolution and Canada’s position on network neutrality.

Improving broadband access

That’s a lot to cover, so let me jump right in and talk about what the CRTC’s decision on basic telecommunications services means for you.

In a word, opportunity. Your sector is working hard to ensure that Canadians living in rural and remote parts of the country have parity with urbanites when it comes to broadband Internet services.

Roughly 84% of urban Canadians already have service at speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload – the new standard in Canada. We believe this is the minimum required for all Canadians to participate in 21st century society.

But nearly two million Canadian households don’t have access to these speeds or data. Too many people living outside major centres still find it difficult, and in some cases nearly impossible, to participate in the digital economy.

Broadband Internet access is an absolute necessity to access employment opportunities, health and education services, or to conduct business today. Whether you are a student doing an online degree, a farmer, Northern tourism operator or small business person in any number of small communities, you need reliable broadband Internet connections at a reasonable price.

Broadband fund

It is for people like these that the CRTC is putting a $750-million fund in place to make it possible for people like you to provide improved and expanded Internet services.

We want fixed broadband Internet to be available in 90% of Canadian premises by the end of 2021, and in the remaining 10% within 10 to 15 years.

The new funding regime will focus on underserved areas in Canada. It will cover both upgrades to existing infrastructure and new construction to provide fixed and mobile broadband Internet services.

Up to 10% of the total annual funding limit will be allocated to satellite-dependent communities for the first five years of the fund’s operation.

Maybe most important to you, we aren’t expecting to see 50/10 speeds overnight. We know that achieving this objective will take time and expect this may require incremental steps.

The Commission has not yet set out the design of the funding regime or the criteria for financial support. There are a lot of complex issues that need to be addressed first. These range from governance, eligibility criteria, project assessment and funding agreements.

Examining all these issues has been very time consuming, but we are coming to an end. We will release our decision later this year, with the aim of issuing a call for applications next year to get those funds flowing. We will look forward to receiving applications.

Innovative and reasonably-priced wireless services

The CRTC is also working to ensure Canadians have a choice of innovative and reasonably-priced wireless services. Last week, we announced the latest steps in our ongoing efforts.

The first part of our announcement dealt with the request by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to reconsider a part of our wholesale wireless framework.

We were asked to find out whether wireless offerings based on different technologies, such as Wi-Fi access, and business models could improve the affordability of wireless services for Canadians.

The Commission concluded that if national lower-cost, data-only plans were more prevalent, Canadians – including those with low incomes – would have more affordable wireless options. Consumers would be empowered to use the voice and messaging applications of their choice, when and where they want, using a combination of Wi-Fi connectivity and cellular networks.

We have launched a public process to determine the specific attributes of lower-cost, data-only plans. The CRTC is also seeking comments on what specific rules, if any, are needed to make such plans widely available. Our goal is to advance the public good by ensuring that lower-cost, data-only wireless plans are available across the country, while not constraining investments in facilities. Companies are making significant investments in their networks and those need to continue.

Bell Mobility, Rogers and Telus must provide their proposals for lower-cost, data-only plans by April 23. People who are interested will have an opportunity to comment on them.

The Commission also announced plans to launch a review of the wholesale framework for wireless services within the next year. This will enable us to take stock of how the competitive environment has evolved since the framework was established in 2015 and consider how the deployment of 5G technology may impact the marketplace.

The second part of last week’s announcement covered the final rates for wholesale roaming services.

As you may know, in 2015 the Commission announced the regulation of wholesale roaming rates that Bell Mobility, Rogers Communications and Telus charge smaller rivals to use their networks.

We did so to increase competition. Sustainable competition in the wireless market is vital to ensuring reasonable prices and innovative services for Canadians.

We recognized that other Canadian wireless providers beyond the ‘big three’ need to obtain these services under reasonable terms and conditions. It’s the only way they can cost-effectively offer their customers the ability to roam nationally.

We set interim rates back in 2015 for wholesale wireless roaming services and directed the national wireless carriers to provide costing information about access to their networks for voice, data and texting. The final rates are 44% to 99% lower – depending on the carrier and type of roaming – compared to those that were available to the big three’s competitors prior to the CRTC’s decision to regulate them. They are also retroactive to 2015.

All Canadians stand to benefit from more innovative and reasonably priced services now that the final rates have been set. They will lower costs for competitive wireless providers, too – enabling companies to provide customers with innovative services at better prices. That’s something the Commission is counting on.

Facilities-based investment

Recent CRTC decisions have been designed to boost competition across Canada and support wireless carriers so they continue to invest in high-quality networks. This is vitally important, given the growing business and consumer demand for wireless communications and Internet access.

Canada’s wireless network operators have built one of the best wireless infrastructures in the world. Our wireless networks reach 99% of Canadians, making the higher speeds of LTE and LTE advanced wireless networks available to roughly 98.5% and 83% of Canadians, respectively.

Continuing to invest to expand and improve wireless network infrastructure is critically important to prepare Canada for the evolutionary impact of the next generation of wireless networks, known as 5G.

The world today revolves around the Internet, a trend that will accelerate with the Internet of Things. Lightning-fast wireless networks that will power everything from smart cities to driverless cars.

And, if we fully harness its potential, it also will help to ensure that residents in rural areas have equitable access to high-quality services, both fixed and mobile. In a world of 5G, there should be vast data capacity and virtually zero lag time.

Before the 5G revolution becomes a reality, Canada's wireless companies have a lot of work to do. They will need to build more cell sites, put new antenna and radio technology to work, and redesign their core networks. This will also require greater access to spectrum, something beyond the purview of the CRTC.

While we don’t control all the levers, we will be monitoring developments closely as this promising future unfolds.

Net neutrality

Where we are having a direct impact is making sure Canadians can count on the neutrality of the Internet. I am referring to the principle that all traffic on the Internet should be given equal treatment by Internet providers.

The CRTC was one of the first regulators in the world to uphold network neutrality. Telecommunications companies are prohibited from influencing the content they transmit unless they have received express authorization to do so from the CRTC.

We have issued several decisions to make sure that Canadians always have access to the free movement of information and expression of ideas. They are premised on laws dating back to the Canadian Railway Act of 1906, when the concept of common carriage ensured that railway companies would carry all goods without discrimination.

While the medium may be different, the principles are the same whether we refer to cargo transported on railway cars or data carried over telecommunications networks. Network neutrality focuses on carriage, rather than content.

The first of the Commission’s network neutrality decisions revolves around Internet traffic management. When congestion occurs, the CRTC expects that an Internet service provider’s first response should always be to invest in more network capacity. If an Internet service provider implements a traffic management practice, it must do so in a transparent manner and inform its customers.

The second ruling was a 2015 decision directing providers to stop giving their own mobile television services an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Certain companies were required to amend their practices.

The third ruling, last April, declared that Internet service providers should treat all data that flows across their networks equally. Because, when service providers were using certain differential pricing practices, they effectively influenced consumers’ choices of which data to consume. This violated the principle of network neutrality and subjected certain content providers and consumers to an undue disadvantage.

With these decisions, the Commission’s network neutrality framework supports a fair marketplace in which Internet service providers can compete on price, quality of service, data allowance and innovative service offerings. Content providers can create, and Canadians can consume, the content of their choice without interference.

Conclusion

Given the dramatic changes taking place in communications, I believe the role of the regulator has probably never mattered more. It is crucial that the public interest be front and centre in all these developments.

The world has certainly changed since the CRTC was created 50 years ago. Think back to the technologies we used back in 1968; they seem primitive relative to the smartphones and LTE networks we use today.

Few then could have predicted the ways in which communications would shape the way we learn, work and live. These technologies have become integral to every aspect of our lives – from health and education, to public safety and national security, to our personal finances and the strength of the global economy. So, Canadians deserve communications networks and services they can depend on.

Just as the industry has evolved over the decades, so, too, has the Commission and the work it does.

One thing remains constant however. Canadian consumers, service providers and content creators can continue to count on the CRTC to make decisions in the public interest.

Because we are all in this together.

Thank you.

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