Ian Scott to the Canadian Telecom Summit


November 21, 2022

Ian Scott, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)

Check against delivery

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. It’s a pleasure to be here with you in person once again.

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that we’re gathered on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Huron-Wendat and Wyandot Nations. I give thanks and pay respect to their Elders.

My visit with you today is significant. Not just because it’s the first time we’re together in nearly three years, and not just because there’s much to discuss, but because it will likely be the last time I address you as Chair of the CRTC. As such, it is an opportunity for me to reflect on what the CRTC has achieved for Canadians in the past five years, and to look ahead to how this organization is positioning itself for the future.

I gave my first official speech as CRTC Chair on November 19, 2017. In it, I made a commitment to Canadians. I pledged that over the next five years, the CRTC would commit to ensuring that we regulate in the public interest and maximize participation in our proceedings using innovative digital tools and social media, and best practices from other regulators.

I went on to speak about how the CRTC’s proceedings ensure the broadest possible public participation, how our decisions are based on the evidence of the public record, and how our processes are open and transparent.

A lot has changed since I made those remarks, almost exactly five years ago. But over that time, we at the CRTC – my fellow Commissioners, our expert staff and I – have adopted innovative tools and approaches to ensure that our proceedings are informed by the ideas and opinions of the widest-possible cross-section of Canadians. Doing so allows us to issue decisions with the confidence of knowing that we are acting in their best interests. We have also made important strides to support reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Along the way, we’ve completed many proceedings and issued countless decisions. Each of these has been driven, first and foremost, by the public interest and with the notion of providing real benefits to Canadians.

Improving access to telecom service

One of the first tasks on my desk when I began my term as Chair was to get the CRTC’s Broadband Fund up and running. Closing Canada’s digital divide was then, as it is now, a big concern for us.

To close the gap in connectivity in underserved areas, the Broadband Fund supports projects to build or upgrade access and transport infrastructure for fixed and mobile wireless broadband. Our goal, of course, is to achieve the universal service objective of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads, with an unlimited data option for fixed broadband, as well as access to LTE mobile wireless services in homes and businesses and along major roads.

The work before us then was to establish the criteria to guide us in assessing applications, and to develop an application guide, application forms and coverage maps. With those foundational pieces in place, we held two calls, generating close to 600 applications. We’ve been working steadily ever since to assess those, and to direct funding toward projects that support communities in need. In doing so, we have been careful to avoid an overlap in funding through coordination with other government programs. We want to make the best use of funding across Canada.

I’m pleased to say that, to date, the Broadband Fund has committed more than $225 million to projects that will improve fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure in more than 200 communities. These include projects that will improve Internet access in 89 Indigenous communities, some of which are the most underserved in the country.

Thanks to the Broadband Fund – as well as the Universal Broadband Fund created by Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and the various funding programs launched by provinces and territories, as well as private investments – we have made good progress on reaching Canada’s universal service target, and bringing connectivity into more homes and businesses across the country.

That said, our job’s far from done. The big picture tells us that a little over 90% of Canadians across the country have access to these minimum target speeds. But if you look closer at broadband speeds available in rural communities, that figure drops dramatically – to a mere 62%. While that figure did increase from last year’s 54%, that’s still not nearly good enough. Northern Canada and First Nations communities are still the most underserved, with a little over 49% and 43%, respectively. As you can see, the digital divide is still too large. That’s why the CRTC is preparing to launch a third call for applications to the Broadband Fund in the coming weeks.

The third call for applications will focus on areas where we feel there is a particular, immediate need. This includes paying particular attention to projects that improve mobile connectivity along major roads, address transport needs and satellite transport capacity – all of which address public safety concerns. Meanwhile, we will continue to support service to satellite dependent communities since they face unique challenges. This call for applications will also highlight the need for greater service resiliency, and underscore the need for effective, meaningful community consultation.

More’s to come. Next year, the CRTC is planning to conduct a review of its Broadband Fund policy. This will be an opportunity to explore how we can improve, in terms of focusing on areas of need, improving the application process, strengthening communication with applicants, deepening consultations with affected Indigenous communities with reconciliation in mind, and addressing any other areas that parties may want to raise on the record.

Mental health and suicide prevention

Aside from helping to bring broadband to rural and remote communities, one of the decisions that will have the most far-reaching impact over time, I believe, is our 9-8-8 decision.

By November 30 of next year, Canadians who are in distress will be able to dial or send a text to 9-8-8. This easy-to-remember number will connect them with a mental-health crisis or suicide-prevention service, free of charge.

This will be of tremendous benefit to Canadians, and in particular to people in northern and remote communities who are disproportionately impacted by suicide.

We have been coordinating closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada to ensure the successful launch of 9-8-8 in Canada.

I want to thank telecommunications service providers for supporting this initiative, particularly those in regions of the country that must transition their networks from seven- to 10-digit dialing before the 9-8-8 service can go live.

There’s still work to be done to achieve our goal, but we have set accelerated timelines to ensure 9-8-8 is implemented as quickly and as efficiently as possible, for the benefit of all Canadians.

Mobile wireless competition

One of the areas we have been paying particular attention to in recent years is mobile wireless competition. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: I’m not convinced there is enough competition at the moment to yield real benefits to Canadians. Yes, prices for mobile wireless services have come down in recent years, but the proverbial needle has further to move.

Opening the market to more mobile wireless competition has been a focus of ours since launching our proceeding on the wireless market in 2019 and since we issued our policy on the matter last year. More competition means more affordable service options for Canadians.

Just last month, we issued a decision on the terms and conditions of the service that will support the deployment of mobile virtual network operators. With those parameters set, we’re looking to the industry to take the next step – for large providers to negotiate in good faith with their smaller regional counterparts.

Our hope is that parties can come to terms as soon as possible, so that by this time next year, there is more competition from the regional wireless providers. We are, of course, hoping this work proceeds seamlessly. If it doesn’t, the CRTC is prepared to act as an arbitrator to help facilitate commercial agreements.

As I said a moment ago, our goal is to bring additional mobile wireless services to more and more Canadians. Competition in the market exists to discipline monopoly powers, and reduce the cost of services for consumers. That’s what we at the CRTC expect from our wireless market. More importantly, it’s what Canadians expect from the wireless market.

Ongoing proceedings

Let me turn now to share some details with you about our ongoing proceedings. All of this, of course, comes with the caveat that I can’t reveal too much about the direction of each, but there are some updates I can provide.

The first pertains to our work in the Far North. In 2020, we launched a consultation to understand the state of telecommunications service in Canada’s Far North, including issues such as access and affordability, and what can be done to further foster competition. Residents were clear in their feedback to us: the need for affordable access to reliable, high-quality services is paramount.

We launched the second phase of our consultation this summer. While the first phase was about understanding the issues, the second phase is about taking action to address them. In the consultation, we asked what could be done to make home phone and Internet services more affordable, more reliable and more competitive, and how, with this consultation itself, we can support reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

To facilitate participation by members of these communities, we applied some of our learnings from our work on another file – the co-development of a new Indigenous broadcasting policy.

Specifically, we:

  • prepared a summary document with key information in four Indigenous languages commonly spoken in the Far North and offered virtual information sessions to whoever wanted to sign up, and
  • launched a new online consultation platform, called CRTC Conversations, to make it easier for the public to participate.

For this last endeavour, we invited people from Indigenous communities to share their stories about the importance of telecommunications services for reconciliation by participating in the discussion on the platform or by linking to videos and audio files.

Further, the CRTC will hold a public hearing at an Indigenous cultural centre in Whitehorse, next year, where we will hear directly from residents on these matters.

The next proceeding I want to update you on pertains to network resiliency. The CRTC has addressed issues relating to reliability in the past, but last summer’s outage that affected Rogers’ wireless and wireline networks was an unexpected – and unprecedented – event. Never before had Canada seen an outage of this magnitude that wasn’t caused by a significant weather event.

The unfortunate reality is that outages have become more frequent in recent years. Whether due to extreme weather events, cyberattacks, accidents, the evolution of technology, or other factors, they are becoming more commonplace. Take that as a warning. The world has changed, and we all need to be better prepared.

The consequence of our collective dependency on telecommunications technologies is such that network outages have become more than mere inconveniences. They are disruptive – to our ways of life, our safety, our work and to the economy. The CRTC is focused on minimizing the disruptions caused by outages, as well as their frequency and length, with a particular view to ensuring that essential services such as public alerting and 9-1-1 are available, regardless of network status.

We are planning to launch proceedings that could examine issues relating to the reporting of major outages, measures to enhance network resiliency, access to emergency services, consumer communication and compensation, the impact of outages on accessibility services and the imposition of penalties on providers.

We are also continuing to review the information provided by Rogers following its summer outage, as well as information provided by providers in Atlantic Canada in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.

Enhancing the safety and security of Canadians through improved network reliability is our top priority.

All of which brings me to the elephant in the room today: the CRTC’s work on wholesale high-speed access policies.

We are fully aware that Canadians are concerned with the price and quality of their Internet services. It is worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic changed their relationship with their telecommunications providers and services – perhaps none more so than their Internet services.

We developed our HSA framework a number of years ago. The industry and marketplace have evolved since – and in a manner that we hadn’t anticipated. We know our framework is not producing the expected results and that we need to fix it. Our objective is therefore clear.

When I spoke at this conference last year, I said that the CRTC was focused on building a comprehensive regulatory approach that supports sustainable competition in order to reduce prices for consumers. That goal is unchanged. We want Canadians to have access to high-quality broadband services. We want to see sustainable competition develop in the market. We want prices to come down.

We are aware of the government’s proposed policy direction and, in particular, those elements directed at fixed Internet competition. We’re also continuing to monitor developments with mergers and acquisitions in the market.

Amid all of this, we continue to work on our current HSA framework. And since the proceedings are ongoing, I am not at liberty to provide any specifics on them.

Let me wrap up by saying this: we recognize the importance of these issues – for both the industry and Canadians – and we are working on the path forward. It’s not for a lack of effort and focus that I cannot announce something more concrete today.

The way forward

As I previously mentioned, the CRTC relies on its public records to make decisions. I’ve been saying that for the entire time I’ve served as Chair of this Commission. There’s another component that also informs our decisions. It’s data.

Some time ago, I challenged CRTC staff to improve our capacity to provide both us and the public with more timely and relevant data. I also challenged them to build our forecasting capacity so that we can better anticipate market and consumer trends. Those challenges led to the re-invention of our annual Communications Monitoring Report into a series of smaller, quarterly reports, known as Communications Market Reports.

We recognize that the government’s draft policy direction speaks to the need for the CRTC to develop strong and timely market monitoring, research and strategic foresight skills – and we are embracing the opportunity this presents.

When I look back at the past five years, I can say I’m proud of everything that we’ve accomplished. We’ve made great strides on the way we collect and share meaningful data, and we’ve found, as I hoped we would, new ways of enhancing participation in our proceedings, particularly among Indigenous Peoples and other equity-seeking groups in Canada.

Getting here wasn’t always easy. It was never going to be. And though we were certainly challenged by the pandemic, we persevered. That’s thanks in no small part to the work of the dedicated people employed at the CRTC.

Many assume that the Chair is the Commission, and that decisions are made by the person who occupies this role. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

The reality is that the CRTC’s decisions are made by a team of expert Commissioners who draw upon evidence provided to them through a rich and diverse public record, and who are supported by a body of employees whose knowledge, talent and dedication are second to none.

Whoever succeeds me in this role will enjoy the privilege of working with these people.

As I look to the future, I see a modern regulator that is agile and confident. One that is well-equipped to render decisions using the latest data available and public records that reflect the broadest possible spectrum of public interest. And one that harnesses the power in that intelligence and connectivity to move the needle even further forward when it comes to fundamental issues such as terms of access, competition, prices, consumer protections, and the safety of Canadians.

Thank you.


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