Vicky Eatrides to the C.D. Howe Institute


Toronto, Ontario
October 3, 2023

Vicky Eatrides, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)

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Good afternoon.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. I also acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit.

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. I am pleased to be joined by some of my CRTC colleagues, including our regional Commissioner for Ontario, Bram Abramson.  It is also nice to see so many other familiar faces.

I am thrilled to be here given the important role that The C.D. Howe Institute plays in advancing policy discussions in Canada.

Certainly, we at the CRTC -- and I am sure everyone here in this room -- are keeping a close eye on your work. Your insights into Big Tech and other industries are particularly relevant in these times of disruptive change. And change is our reality.

If I can borrow a line from Policy Horizons, the Government of Canada’s centre of excellence in foresight, “the history of technology teaches us to expect the unexpected.”

We know that things will continue to change around us while we are renewing our regulatory regime. That is why we are taking a consultative and flexible approach.

At a high level, we know what we need to do. To take a couple of obvious examples, we need to implement new broadcasting legislation and follow through on a new policy direction for telecommunications.

And we know why we need to do it, which is to connect Canadians. Our work has very real impacts on the lives of the more than 40 million people who live in our country.

Let me give an example. Since taking on my role earlier this year, I have met with stakeholders across Canada. I have heard stories directly from community members in places like Whitehorse, Cape Breton, Winnipeg and other regions about how our telecommunications services have fallen short when Canadians needed them most. I have heard about the very real impact on schooling, on healthcare, and on safety.

It is one thing to be talking about connectivity when we are here in downtown Toronto. But when we talk to people who live in rural areas, it is not an abstract concept. On the East Coast, I sat down with a citizen representing a rural community. He shared his concerns with me. He said that the impacts of these issues are seldom seen by most Canadians but that his community lives with them every day, including through the realities of severe weather events.

We know that there is a lot of collective work to be done.

So, we have talked about the what and the why. The tricky part is the how. How do we go about renewing our regulatory regime while everything continues to change around us?

Our goal is to build a regulatory framework that is flexible and can adapt to disruption. To develop an approach that is prospective rather than prescriptive, and to create a system that is robust in the face of change.

Lina Khan, Chairperson of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, has talked about this kind of approach. She said: “we need to orient our [efforts] around targeting root causes rather than looking at one-off effects.” Doing that “avoids a whack-a-mole approach,” where we find ourselves solving one problem only to see or cause another to pop up.

What I take away from this is that a successful regulatory framework is one that is sufficiently flexible to deal with new issues and technologies.

Earlier this year, we set out three areas of focus for the CRTC. They include promoting competition to deliver reliable and high-quality Internet and cellphone services to Canadians at lower prices; modernizing Canada’s broadcasting system to promote Canadian and Indigenous content; and improving the CRTC to better serve Canadians.

Let me talk about our approach to each in turn.

Promoting competition to deliver reliable, high-quality services at lower prices

I will start with telecommunications. Our vision is clear. We want to deliver reliable and high-quality Internet and cellphone services to Canadians.

So how are we going to achieve this goal?

As I mentioned earlier, the Government released a direction to the CRTC in February on a renewed approach to telecommunications policy. It requires us to consider how our decisions can promote competition, affordability, reliability, and consumer interests.

If you take a close look, you will see the policy direction mentions competition or affordability more than two dozen times in the span of around fourteen hundred words. That is about the length of a short essay.

The message to us is clear: our decisions need to deliver affordable services for Canadians through enhanced competition.

We also know that we need telecommunications providers to invest in high quality networks, and that they need incentives to do so.

Investments are expensive. We have heard from telecommunications companies that just maintaining current networks can cost a company tens of millions of dollars or more every year. We have also heard from companies that it can take decades to earn returns on their investments and that it can cost $25,000 to connect a single home in some rural areas.

We need to find ways to incentivize these important investments while encouraging competition.

A good example of this is our approach to mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs. In May, the CRTC set the final rules that allow regional cellphone providers to compete as MVNOs across Canada. Large cellphone companies must share their networks with competitors. With this access, regional competitors can offer services to more regions of the country. And we know that greater competition leads to more choice and lower prices.

But our approach provides MVNO access as only a transitional step. Regional providers can use MVNO access now, but they must build out their own, independent networks within seven years.

By early August, ninety days after we had set the rules, agreements were in place to enable regional companies to act as MVNOs. The CRTC is helping companies reach agreements quickly so that Canadians can have access to a broader variety of high-quality services soon.

We have a similar goal for Internet services. The challenges, however, are different.

Let me explain.

Over the course of the last two years, we have seen many independent providers either acquired by larger firms or put up “for sale” signs. There may be a variety of reasons for this, but the fact is that smaller providers are having a hard time.

We launched a consultation in March on the Internet services market. We are re-examining the rates competitors pay large telephone and cable companies for access to their high-speed Internet services. And we are evaluating what else we need to do to ensure that Canadians benefit from robust competition between providers.

We know that we need to be agile, so we are prioritizing our work to deliver results more quickly. To give an example, right now, competitors do not have a workable way to sell Internet services over the new, fibre-to-the-home networks being deployed across Canada. This access is important in a world where Canadians want higher-speed plans.

Our approach is to tackle this issue first -- and we plan to have a decision out soon.

We are also advancing a number of other initiatives in telecommunications. This includes improving our Broadband Fund and supporting improved reliability of Canada’s networks.

The Broadband Fund supports projects that improve access to services in rural, remote and Indigenous communities. We know that we can do more, so we are taking steps to improve the Fund. We are making the application process faster and easier. We are looking at creating a new funding stream for Indigenous communities. And we want to fund projects that will increase the reliability of rural and remote networks.

And while we are on the topic of reliable networks, I should mention that, in February, the CRTC introduced a temporary measure requiring providers to report outages and what they are doing to prevent them. We are also looking toward future consultations on a number of related issues, including consumer communication and compensation related to these events.

So that is, at a high level, some of the work that we are doing on telecommunications. Let me talk about another area we are focussed on, and that is modernizing the broadcasting system.

Modernizing Canada’s broadcasting system

With the passing of the Online Streaming Act, Parliament has given us an enormous mandate. We need to set up a modern broadcasting framework that can adapt to changing circumstances. The question is, how do we do it?

Well, as I have said before, when I think about the work that lies ahead, I am reminded of the proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Our plan is to go fast and far together.

So, what do I mean by fast? Well, since May, we have launched four public consultations to modernize the broadcasting system and ensure that online streaming services make meaningful contributions to Canadian and Indigenous content.

And what do I mean by far? I mean consulting being adaptable and consulting broadly to ensure a diversity of perspectives.

The changes that are needed to implement the modernized Broadcasting Act are substantial and complex. There are many interconnected issues to be addressed. So we are taking a phased approach to implementing the modernized Act. We will make decisions based on consultations. And we will adjust our plans as needed.

In response to issuing our first few public notices of consultation, we received over 600 submissions -- many of them long and detailed, and all of them showing that people are highly engaged.

The first consultation looked at which online streaming services need to register and which will be exempted. In other words, which foreign services need to provide basic information to us so that we can account for them in the broadcasting system, and which ones do not. And to be clear, we will not be regulating individual users and content creators.

The second consultation looked at the basic conditions of service that might be imposed on certain streaming services. That is to say, the conditions that must be met to operate in Canada.

I am happy to report that a few days ago, following broad public consultation, we published our first two Commission decisions flowing from the newly enacted Online Streaming Act.

Last Friday, we announced which online streaming services need to provide basic information about their activities in Canada -- namely, those that operate in Canada, offer broadcasting content, and earn $10 million or more in annual revenues.

We also set basic conditions for online streaming services to operate in Canada. These conditions require certain online streaming services to provide the CRTC with information related to their content and services. They also require them to make their content available in a way that is not tied to a specific mobile or Internet service.

The third consultation involves our regime for fees, which recovers the CRTC’s costs of regulating the broadcasting industry. The call for comments on the proposed new regime was published in August. We have received input on our proposal and are now considering those comments as we work toward making a decision.

Our fourth consultation looks at the contributions that streaming services will need to make to support the Canadian broadcasting system. This is about the structure that will support Canadian content in the future. Currently, traditional broadcasters must spend certain percentages on Canadian content and contribute to production funds. We are examining whether this structure works once we include streaming platforms, and asking questions about whether we should look at contributions, as a concept, in new ways.  

We want to ensure that we have broad engagement and robust public records. So, as part of this consultation, we are holding a three-week public hearing starting next month. We are looking forward to hearing from 129 intervenors representing a broad range of interests -- from actors to producers, broadcasters, distributors, creators and online streaming services.

So that covers the first phase of our consultations on the Online Streaming Act.

We are taking the same quick and consultative approach to the Online News Act.

In August, the CRTC shared its plan for setting up the bargaining framework for fair negotiations between news organizations in Canada and the largest online platforms.

We will launch a public consultation in the coming weeks to gather views. I encourage everyone who is interested to check out the CRTC’s plan and to participate in the upcoming consultation.

Improving the CRTC to better serve Canadians

As we work toward modernizing the regulatory regime, we need to do the same for our organization. That is why improving the CRTC is our third area of focus.

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

We are clearing backlogs. We are looking at our internal processes to see how we can do better. And we are dealing with applications in a more transparent and timely way.

I am pleased to say we are making progress. By way of numbers, in the first nine months of 2023, we issued 325 decisions, orders and notices of consultation. That is a 25% increase over the same period last year. We are rolling.

Another example of how we are doing things differently relates to using new techniques to protect Canadians from fraud, identity theft and other cybercrimes. Data from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre shows that Canadians lost more than half a billion dollars to these crimes in 2022 alone.

We understand typical enforcement actions are not sufficient to tackle this challenge. So, we are working with service providers to enable technical solutions that will stop the scam calls, emails and text messages from ever reaching Canadians.

Going fast and far in an age of disruption

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

Perhaps I could end where I started—that history tells us to expect the unexpected.

We know that the world around us will continue to evolve at a rapid pace while we are renewing our regulatory regime.

Nobody knows exactly what the world will look like in twelve months, or even twelve weeks. But we know that we need to be ready for what is around the corner.

So, we will act quickly, we will engage broadly, and we will adjust our plans as needed.

In other worlds, we will expect the unexpected and go from there. 

Thank you.


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