Ellen Desmond to the annual conference of the Canadian Communication Systems Alliance (CCSA)


Saint John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
September 11, 2023

Ellen Desmond, Commissioner for the Atlantic Region and Nunavut
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)

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Thank you for that kind introduction.

I’ll begin by acknowledging that we’re gathered on the unceded, traditional territory of the Beothuk and the Mi’kmaq peoples. I thank them and pay respect to their Elders.

I also want to thank Jay Thomson, the CCSA’s outgoing CEO, for his strong leadership during the last six years. We at the CRTC are well acquainted with Jay, of course. He started his career with us; a career that also saw him contribute to the Canadian Media Producers Association and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Jay: your career has been an amazing success—we wish you all the best in your retirement. We also look forward to working with your successor.

It's a pleasure for me to participate in the CCSA’s first-ever conference in Newfoundland for a few reasons. As the regional commissioner for the Atlantic and Nunavut regions—and as a Maritimer—I think it’s wonderful that delegates have an opportunity to visit this beautiful area of the country.

I hope you will take the time to enjoy this beautiful province and explore everything Newfoundland has to offer.

Another reason that I appreciate the CCSA’s choice of location has to do with the history of telecommunications in Canada. Newfoundland was the setting for several of the most important milestones in our industry: the first telegraph and telephone cables to connect Europe with North America, for instance. And about four kilometres from here, Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal. Each of these technological advances ushered in a new era for our industry and for Canadians. Today, technological innovation promises to propel us into yet another new era. There is surely no better place to discuss the future of telecommunications than in the shadow of Signal Hill at a conference that marks another important milestone.

Thirty years ago, a group of independent entrepreneurs from Atlantic Canada founded the CCSA. They set up an office in a back room at Fundy Cable in Saint John, New Brunswick. Being from Saint John, I have fond memories of Fundy Cable. Fundy Cable was, after all, responsible for bringing the world of cable television to so many of us on the east coast.

And what a world that was! The December 1993 issue of TV Guide for Atlantic Canada listed a grand total of 45 channels, and not all 45 were available everywhere. Of course, the number of channels—along with the number of ways that viewers can access them—have both increased continually since then. 1993 also marked the introduction of Mosaic—the first web browser capable of displaying images alongside text. At the time, the Internet was in its infancy, and was familiar only to computer programmers and technology aficionados. Few could have guessed how much the Internet would change telecommunications.

The early 1990s was also a period of significant regulatory change for our industry. In 1993, Parliament adopted Canada’s first full legislation addressing telecommunications. The Telecommunications Act largely created the regulatory environment we operate in today.

At the time, the CRTC was working to modernize the relatively new Broadcasting Act in the face of emerging technologies, including direct-to-home satellite television. As many of you will remember, some referred to the satellites as “death stars” and claimed that the cable-TV era would soon be over. Of course, we now recognize that the Internet has had a far greater impact on our industry.

The truth of the matter is that new technologies continually emerge and it’s virtually impossible to predict which ones will come to dominate. This is particularly true for communications media. Today, people can access their favourite shows and music in more ways than ever before. Each technology has unique advantages and disadvantages, and providers compete on that basis.

This is nothing new to CCSA members, of course. The CCSA’s founding members recognized the opportunities created by new technologies and understood that collaboration offered the best way to make the most of these opportunities.

Your continued ability to identify and deploy the technologies that best meet the needs of customers has always been key to your success and growth, as the recent jump in CCSA membership demonstrates—up 20 percent in just the last 16 months. Growth has largely been driven by Internet service providers who now offer TV services. The success of the CCSA stands as further proof that effective collaboration is the best strategy for adapting to technological change.

Organizing conferences such as this one is another example of CCSA’s considerable value. The conference is an opportunity to check in with fellow members, consider the latest developments and forge new partnerships. In the rapidly changing environment of Canada’s communications industry, these partnerships are key to moving forward.

This message came through loud and clear in the speech delivered by Ms. Vicky Eatrides, the CRTC’s Chairperson and CEO, in Banff a few months ago. To describe the Commission’s approach to change, Ms. Eatrides cited a well-known proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

To ensure that Canada’s communications industry can go far, the CRTC will continue to collaborate with all stakeholders. Ultimately, we all serve the same customer and success continues to rest on our ability to meet the needs of Canadians every day.

As a regulator, the CRTC focuses on protecting the public interest. We also want Canada to have an accessible, world-class communications system that promotes innovation and enriches the lives of all Canadians. This country’s vast geography, along with the size and location of our communities, make it difficult to provide top-quality, customer-oriented services in a cost-efficient manner, particularly in remote regions.

The CRTC recognizes that technological change is inevitable. Our job is to put in place the regulatory structure and tools that enable service providers and broadcasters to succeed, and that meet the needs of all Canadians.

The CCSA and organizations like it have a vital role to play by participating in the regulatory process.

The CCSA’s input, for instance, informed the CRTC’s decision last February regarding access to telephone poles. Facilitating access to telephone poles is essential to expanding broadband services. The decision supports the Government of Canada’s stated goal of ensuring that all Canadians can have access to high-speed Internet services by 2030. We appreciate the CCSA‘s submission.

We also appreciate the CCSA’s submission to our review of the Broadband Fund. The Fund has already committed over $225 million to improve services for over 200 communities. While this is important progress, a review was launched in March with the goal of improving the Fund and to connect even more Canadians to high-speed Internet and mobile services, especially in rural areas. On this topic, we are currently evaluating the proposals we received further to our third call for applications.

Stakeholder input to CRTC consultations help to ensure that our regulatory system is flexible enough to adapt to new technologies, such as 5G. Deploying 5G will require an abundance of small cells to increase access speeds. Installing these small cells on telephone poles, lampposts, streetlights and other infrastructure is expected to create a number of challenges. The CRTC is aware of these challenges, and I expect this is something we will need to look at in the future.

The new Broadcasting Act also provides us a unique opportunity to work together at a time when streaming is shaping the new competitive landscape. We know this is of particular concern to smaller players throughout the broadcasting system. We must continue to ensure local communities have access to local news and information and make sure our broadcasting system supports the diversity of regions and voices that make up our country.

By working together, I’m confident that we can meet the many challenges facing our industry and continue to satisfy our customers in the digital age.

The CRTC aims to ensure that the system as a whole provides opportunities to all players, regardless of size. To succeed, we must, on an ongoing basis, receive the input of groups such as the CCSA, along with individual Canadians. Your ideas are essential. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The future depends on what we do in the present”.

The contributions industry groups make today help the CRTC build a better regulatory framework for the future.

Thirty years ago, few could have imagined the changes that have come to pass: the Internet, for instance, and mobile connectivity. And none can accurately predict what the next 30 years will bring. That said, today, we have a wealth of exciting opportunities ahead of us. Broad collaboration between industry groups like the CCSA enables us to maximize these opportunities and deliver results for Canadians.

Your organization’s work is essential, and you are an appreciated partner of the regulatory system.

As an organization, you have remained true to your roots, providing a voice for rural providers and Canadians throughout the regulatory process. The CRTC considers the CCSA a valued partner as we continue to improve our communications system. We look forward to continuing this dialogue in the years ahead—by moving forward together, I’m confident that we’ll continue to go far.

Thank you again for the opportunity to participate today and enjoy the rest of the conference.


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