Vicky Eatrides to The Canadian Telecom Summit
November 6, 2023
Vicky Eatrides, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
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Good afternoon, everyone.
Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, the Haudenosaunee and the Huron-Wendat and Wyandot Nations.
Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. I am thrilled to be back here at the Canadian Telecom Summit and am happy to see so many familiar faces.
When I started thinking about possible topics for my remarks, I drew inspiration from the theme of this year’s summit, which is breaking barriers.
I’d like to build on that theme. Because while breaking barriers is important, success is reaching our goals.
And so that’s what I’d like to talk about this afternoon: the CRTC’s goals and the barriers we’re breaking to reach them.
Earlier this year, the CRTC set out three areas of focus. First, promoting competition to deliver reliable, affordable, and high-quality Internet and cellphone services for Canadians. Second, modernizing our broadcasting system to promote Canadian and Indigenous content. And, third, improving the CRTC to better serve Canadians.
Let me talk about each in turn.
Promoting competition to deliver reliable, affordable, and high-quality Internet and cellphone services for Canadians
Starting with telecommunications.
Over the past several months, I’ve heard stories directly from Canadians across the country about how our telecommunications services have fallen short. I’ve heard about the impact that has had on people’s lives. It can prevent people from finding employment, keeping in touch with family and friends, and accessing health care and schooling.
Our goal is to help connect all Canadians. But as we know, one of the barriers to connectivity is the high cost of building out networks.
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.
To support the building out of networks, the CRTC helps fund projects in rural, remote and Indigenous communities through its Broadband Fund.
In our most recent call out, we received more than 100 applications seeking roughly $1.9 billion in funding. We are moving quickly to make decisions on these projects, while at the same time making our application process faster and easier. We are also looking at creating a new funding stream for Indigenous communities.
As we work to connect more communities through initiatives like the Broadband Fund, we are also making sure that Canadians benefit from increased competition while continuing to incentivize investment.
In February, the Government of Canada directed the CRTC to renew our approach to telecommunications policy.
Among other things, the CRTC was directed to act in a timely way to provide clarity to the market, and to consider adopting new processes to improve timeliness.
The policy direction tells the CRTC to consider how its decisions would promote competition, affordability, consumer interests and innovation, with the words “competition” and “affordability” appearing more than two dozen times.
The direction also tells the CRTC to promote investment in high-quality networks. As I mentioned, networks are expensive to build, maintain, and operate. And unless there is a prospect for returns, investors will put their money elsewhere.
A good example of how we are advancing these objectives is our approach to cellphone services competition. In May, the CRTC established rules that allow regional competitors to compete across Canada as mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, using the networks of large cellphone companies. With this access, regional providers can expand their reach and offer Canadians more choice.
However, this access is time limited. Regional providers can use it now, but they must build out their own networks within seven years.
Our approach is already showing results. Canadians can go online today and find offers from both regional and national players that weren’t there a year ago. These early improvements are an indication that we are moving in the right direction.
While our MVNO framework is already helping to promote competition for cellphone services, we are working to improve competition for Internet services.
Just minutes ago, we released a decision as part of our ongoing Internet services proceeding.
Before getting into the decision, let me take a step back and provide some context.
For more than 20 years, the CRTC has required large incumbent telephone and cable companies to sell access to their networks under specific rates, terms, and conditions. Competitors need this access to offer more choice of Internet services to Canadians.
You may recall that we launched an Internet services proceeding in March because we recognized that our approach had not been working to encourage choice and affordability.
As part of that proceeding, we created an expedited process focused on the issue of whether large companies should provide competitors with access to their fibre-to-the-home networks on an interim basis.
The record of the proceeding, which includes over 300 interventions, shows that competition in the Internet services market is declining. In recent years, the percentage of customers served by competitors has decreased dramatically.
This decrease is most significant in Ontario and Quebec, where independent competitors now serve 47% fewer customers than they did just two years ago. At the same time, several competitors have been bought out by larger Internet providers. This has left many Canadians with fewer options for high-speed Internet services.
Large telephone companies have the most extensive fibre-to-the-home networks across Canada. By the end of 2022, 60% of Canadian homes and businesses reached by the large telephone companies, not including the territories, had access to fibre-to-the-home networks. By contrast, less than 5% of homes and businesses passed by cable companies have access to fibre-to-the-home networks.
Based on this record, the CRTC is acting quickly to help stabilize the market. On a temporary and expedited basis, the CRTC is providing competitors with a workable way to sell Internet services using the fibre-to-the-home networks of large telephone companies in Ontario and Quebec, where competition has declined most significantly.
Our decision requires large telephone companies to provide competitors with access to their fibre-to-the-home networks within six months. The six-month period will allow companies to prepare their networks, and to develop information technology and billing systems.
The CRTC is also setting the interim rates that competitors will pay when selling services over these fibre-to-the-home networks. These rates were chosen to allow Canada’s large Internet companies to continue investing in their networks to deliver high-quality services to Canadians.
The CRTC is continuing its work on this proceeding, and looks forward to the public hearing that will start on February 12th.
So that’s some of what we are doing in telecommunications as we work toward our goal of connecting Canadians.
Modernizing our broadcasting system to promote Canadian and Indigenous content
While on the telecommunications front, we’re helping connect people through technology, on the broadcasting side, we’re helping connect people through culture.
While we work to implement the Online Streaming Act, the broadcasting ecosystem is changing at a rapid pace.
Our goal is to build a regulatory framework that is flexible and can adapt to disruption. We seek to develop an approach that is prospective rather than prescriptive, and to create a system that is robust in the face of change.
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.
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.
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.
We want to ensure that we have broad engagement and robust public records. So we are holding a three-week public hearing that starts in two weeks. We are looking forward to hearing from over 120 intervenors representing a broad range of interests -- from actors to producers, broadcasters, distributors, creators and online streaming services.
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 shortly to gather views.
So that’s how we are modernizing our regulatory regime to meet our goal of ensuring a vibrant Canadian broadcasting system.
Improving the CRTC to better serve Canadians
Before I wrap up, let me briefly touch on our third area of focus, which is improving the CRTC to better serve Canadians.
Since I started in my role earlier this year, I’ve met with over 70 stakeholders from across the country and have heard from many participants in public proceedings.
What I’ve heard directly, including from individual Canadians, is the importance of the CRTC moving quickly and being transparent given the impact our decisions have on consumers, businesses and the Canadian economy.
We’ve listened, and we’re becoming a faster and more transparent Commission. We’re doing more to engage with Canadians. We’re clearing backlogs. We’re looking at our internal processes to see how we can do better. And we’re dealing with applications in a more timely way.
We are making progress and we’ll continue to improve to better serve Canadians.
I’ve covered a lot of ground this afternoon. So let me conclude by taking us back to where we started, which is the theme of this week’s summit: breaking barriers.
As I said earlier, while breaking barriers is important, success is reaching our goals.
For us at the CRTC, that means connecting people through technology and culture. We will remain focused on our goals with a clear sense of direction and purpose. And we will continue to break barriers day by day and decision by decision.
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