Vicky Eatrides to the Canadian Chapter of the International Institute of Communications


Creating the future today. Together. Right now.

Ottawa, Ontario
May 15, 2023

Vicky Eatrides, Chairperson and CEO
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)

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Good morning.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people. Let’s take a moment to thank the Anishnaabeg people and to pay respect to their Elders.

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. I am very pleased to be here, along with some of my fellow Commissioners and other CRTC colleagues.

As you know, I have served as Chairperson and CEO of the CRTC for just over four months. During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many of you and to hear about your hopes for the future of communications in Canada.

When I speak with fellow Canadians, when I listen to people and groups who appear at our public hearings, one thing is clear: Canadians care deeply about the communications services that touch every aspect of our daily lives.

That message came through loud and clear when the CRTC held a week-long public hearing in the Yukon last month on telecommunications services in the Far North.

And that’s where I want to start today – by sharing with you some of the things we heard during that hearing – to better explain why we are doing what we’re doing. Then I will move to the what and conclude with the how.

So, let’s start with the why. During our hearing in Whitehorse, we heard many stories about the state of telecommunications in rural, remote and Indigenous communities. Some were inspiring. Many were troubling. Each one demonstrated the fundamental importance of these services, and the role we all play in ensuring their availability and reliability.

Let me share an example.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation territory covers more than 40,000 square kilometres across BC, the Yukon and Alaska. Its main community, Atlin, is about 200 kilometres south of Whitehorse.

During the hearing, we heard from community members that there is no high-speed Internet service in Atlin, there’s no cellular service and no 9-1-1 emergency services either. We heard that the community is served by a single local telephone provider who offers a line that is shared by multiple households – something we used to call a “party line.”

That means that in an emergency – a fire, for example – there’s almost no way of connecting with essential services quickly. You make a call, if you can, and you hope for the best. If you have to, you grab what you can and you leave the rest behind.

An Indigenous Elder who appeared before us at the hearing told us about a community member who suffered a medical emergency in her home. She couldn’t access medical alerting services that are common elsewhere across the country. She waited nearly a full day until someone came by to check on her.

Such a scenario is probably very difficult for many of us to imagine. The reality, however, is that it’s a fact of daily life for people living in communities like Atlin.

We heard about one isolated community where students could not pivot to online learning during the pandemic. Their children lost one, two and three years of education.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “no child left behind.” Well, those children were absolutely left behind.

It doesn’t have to be that way. And it shouldn’t take a CRTC hearing to shine a spotlight on such dire situations, because they shouldn’t exist. We need to do better.

Canada’s communications sector touches every aspect of our lives. It’s the pathway that connects us to each other, to our communities, and to the world around us. It’s the backbone of our economy, our culture and our society.

We’re working online. We’re learning online. We’re accessing healthcare services online. And we’re spending our free time – where else? – online.

The CRTC needs to adapt to this evolution. And while we have to keep a sharp focus on delivering results today, we need to look ahead to the future to see what’s coming next.

We must ensure that all Canadians have what they need to take advantage of the possibilities of the digital age. And we must ensure that people in our communities like Atlin have those same opportunities.

There will be challenges along the way. We know that. As Canadian-born actor and activist Michael J. Fox said, “Our challenges don’t define us, our actions do.”

Well, we need to take action.

And this brings me to the what – what the CRTC is trying to achieve..

A good place to start is telecommunications.

If you stop someone on the street today and ask them about the price they pay for their Internet or cellphone services, they’ll probably say “too much.” Some might even go a step further and say that we pay some of the highest rates in the world.

And they wouldn’t be wrong. Compared with other countries – the United States, Australia and parts of Europe, for example – the prices we pay are higher.

But price is only one part of the story. The CRTC’s mandate is to regulate in the public interest. This means taking into account a number of different -- and sometimes competing -- interests as we make our decisions.

The February telecommunications policy direction requires us to consider how our decisions can promote competition, affordability, reliability, consumer interests, innovation and investment in Canada’s telecommunications sector.

Our job is to find the right balance between bolstering competition and lowering prices, while creating the conditions that allow businesses to invest, innovate and succeed. In other words, we want a healthy industry where everyone benefits.

We have work to do on broadcasting as well.

The passing of the Online Streaming Act, or Bill C-11, last month was the catalyst for us to start shaping the broadcasting system of the future.

For over fifty years, the CRTC has ensured that Canadian broadcasters are an integral part of the ecosystem that supports our Canadian culture in both official languages. The CRTC’s frameworks and regulations have focused on supporting the production and airing of Canadian content.

Our mandate hasn’t changed.

The new Broadcasting Act will ensure that all players, including online streaming services, contribute to the achievement of the cultural and policy objectives set out in the Act.

So, we’ve talked about the why and the what. But how will we get from where we are today to where we want to be?

The late Canadian author Robertson Davies once said, “The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealised past.”

I’d maybe temper Mr. Davies’ view by saying this: Although we can learn a great deal from the past, we must focus on the future.

And here’s how.

First, we’re focusing on Internet and cellphone services. We want to make sure our approach to competition strikes the right balance between lowering prices for Canadians and maintaining incentives for companies to invest in high-quality networks.

This work is underway. In the cellphone market, last week, we published the final terms for regional competitors to gain access to the large wireless companies’ networks.

With this access, regional competitors will be able to serve Canadians in parts of the country where they have not yet built out their networks.

We are monitoring negotiations to ensure companies reach agreements within 90 days. And we are ready to use all tools at our disposal to ensure this happens.

We are also moving quickly to bring better, more competitive Internet services to Canadians. In February, we released a decision on access to poles that makes it easier for companies to deploy high-speed Internet networks.

In March, we launched a proceeding that aims to increase Internet competition in Canada. This proceeding considers how to better enable smaller competitors to sell Internet services, including over the large companies’ fibre-to-the-home networks. Through these efforts, we are looking to ensure that Canadians can access the modern, high-speed Internet services they need at competitive prices.

We have a lot of other work underway on the telecommunications front. As you know, we launched a consultation in February aimed at enhancing the resilience and reliability of Canada’s networks and another one in March to improve our Broadband Fund. We are also tackling the fraudulent and nuisance calls, text messages and emails that have unfortunately become a part of our daily lives. We are continuing to work with partners to protect Canadians and to foster their trust in the communications system.

So that’s telecommunications.

We are just as busy on broadcasting.

Now that the Online Streaming Act has received Royal Assent, we are moving quickly to build the regulatory framework for a modern broadcasting system.

Last Monday, we published our plan for modernizing the framework so that online streaming services make meaningful contributions to Canadian and Indigenous content and Canadians have greater opportunities to create and access a variety and diversity of content.

And by the end of the week, we had launched our first three public consultations, with more to come.

We encourage everyone to participate in these consultations and to share your ideas so that, together, we can design the broadcasting system of the future.

We are also keeping a close eye on Bill C-18, the Online News Act, and will be ready to ensure its timely and effective implementation if adopted by Parliament.

Our third area of focus is more behind the scenes, but just as important. We are taking steps internally within the CRTC to make our decisions faster, to be more transparent, and to allow us to better engage with Canadians.

A key first step to becoming more timely has been to prioritize our work. Like everyone else, we’re busy. Our “regular” workload involves over 400 decisions, notices and orders every year. We are tackling complex issues, like wholesale high-speed access. And we are modernizing our broadcasting system.

I have often said that we can move mountains, but not all at once. So, we have developed areas of focus for this year to prioritize and resource areas with the greatest impact. These are the areas I have been speaking about this morning. We will post them on our website and will soon begin to develop and seek input on longer-term priorities for 2024 and beyond.

At the same time, we are looking at our internal processes to see how we can do better.

We understand the importance of moving quickly and being transparent given the impact our decisions have on consumers, businesses and the Canadian economy.

One of the areas where we are making changes is in how we deal with “Part 1 applications.” As many of you know, these are applications filed by parties that are not the subject of notices of consultation. For broadcasting, this would include applications for licence amendments and undue preference. And for telecommunications, applications related to disputes between providers, including with respect to unjust discrimination.

We are dealing with these applications in a more transparent and timely way.

To be more transparent, we are posting Part 1s for public comment as soon as we receive them.

To be more timely, we have put in place a new structure to quickly remove from the system applications that are redundant or outside the scope of our mandate.

Another area that we are looking to improve is our final offer arbitration process. We are taking a close look at our process to see how we can make it more responsive and nimble.

We are taking these steps internally because we know we need to move faster.

But we can’t do this alone. Industry has an important role to play. We are doing our part for Canadians, and we need you to do yours.

That means abiding by our timelines. Giving us the information we need so that we can do our jobs. Filing only valid Part 1s that are within the scope of our mandate. And on final offer arbitration, and dispute resolution more generally, that means moving matters along expeditiously.

We need to move forward together to give Canadians the telecommunications and broadcasting services they expect and deserve.

I have covered a lot of ground this morning, and I want to thank you again for the opportunity to share these thoughts.

Let me leave you with a final one.

Since I began my term as Chairperson and CEO, I’ve consistently said that I want Canadians to know that the CRTC is working on their behalf. So that when someone is asked “what has the CRTC done for you?”, they can respond with tangible results like lower prices, high-quality and innovative services or greater access to Canadian content.

Of course, people who live in communities like Atlin might have different answers to that question. Because they may be more concerned with issues like access to emergency services.

The point is that these issues have very real impacts on the lives of the more than 38 million people who live in our country. They might sometimes seem remote, abstract or even routine. But the reality is that these issues -- poles, wholesale access, discoverability -- have profound implications for our friends, neighbours, colleagues and family members.

The responsibility lies with all of us to do our best work, to realize the opportunity to make Canada’s communications system better for everyone from coast to coast to coast. In so doing, we can open the door for Canadians to benefit from the new opportunities such a system will offer.

It’s said that the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Let’s start creating that future today. Together. Right now.

Let’s get to work.


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