Bram Abramson to the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Wireless Internet Providers


Gatineau, Quebec
February 14, 2024

Bram Abramson, Commissioner, Ontario Region
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)

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Good afternoon.

Thank you for the kind introduction and the warm welcome. We are honored to gather here on the traditional, unceded territory of the Anishnaabeg People. I thank them and pay respect to their Elders. And it is my pleasure to be back at your annual conference. Last year, I appeared here wearing a new hat as the CRTC’s Ontario Commissioner. This year, the hat’s not so new. I have a year less a day under my belt. And, this time, I will be taking questions.

The past year

So, first, let me start with a spoiler. The past year has been a busy one for the CRTC.

On the broadcasting side, we’ve been busy with the new duties we’ve been assigned. As it happens, some of this will sound familiar to those of you who operate in the telecom world. For example:

In the same way that domestic and foreign telecom providers operating in Canada have always been required to register with us, wherever in the world they’re based and whatever their revenues, now we are requiring some streaming media providers to register with us, too, if they clear a revenue floor.

In the same way that all telecom providers in Canada, whether domestic or foreign, have long been required to pay a proportion of revenues into universal service funds, now we are looking at what obligations streaming media providers should have, which could take many different forms. We had a three-week hearing in the fall to start that process and expect our first decisions later this year. 

We have been asked to take a fresh look at the definition for Canadian content. We have been working with Indigenous nations and peoples to co-develop a broadcasting policy, with more news to come on next steps for that soon. We have been tasked with some of the administration around the Online News Act. And, obviously, there’s a great deal more taking place on the broadcasting side as well.

We’ve been busy on the telecom side, too. As I’m sure you know, some of my colleague Commissioners are on a panel, hearing evidence on wholesale fixed network access this week. It touches both on central, or aggregated, access; and local, or disaggregated, access. Network unbundling and fixed-access-line market power are traditionally at the heart of debates on the kind of competition and the kinds of choices that telecom markets can support. I invite you to tune in.

Today, though, I’d like to report in briefly on six other issues that relate to your businesses. They are: market monitoring; the Broadband Fund we administer in support of universal service; wireless attachments on incumbent local exchange carriers (ILEC) support structures; speed and quality measurement; access to transport; and reducing your reporting burden.

Market Monitoring

Now, with market monitoring, I’m going to start at what I think is an important place that doesn’t always get its dues. And I’m not just saying that because, more than 20 years ago, I cut my CRTC teeth as a staffer helping get the monitoring program up and running.

At last year’s event, I addressed the new policy direction the government had recently handed down to the CRTC. Well, some of its focuses are on how our decisions encourage competition, foster affordability, and enhance consumers’ rights, and how we can move more quickly, and how we can better rely on sound and recent evidence in our decision making. The need for sound and recent evidence is why we’re working to shore up timely market monitoring and research to improve our decision-making. We can’t be evidence-based if we don’t have the evidence.

Now, we acquire some of that evidence through what parties file on the record of proceedings. Let me be very clear in saying we need and appreciate your submissions. They define the universe of what we’re able to decide.

But consistent and regular market monitoring creates an information base layer that regulatory filings, our requests for information, and so on, sit on top of. So please allow me to put in a word for our upcoming Annual Telecommunications Survey. It opens tomorrow, closes on March 31, and can be completed entirely online. We know it is still a little clunky, but we are working to improve it. Most importantly, it gives us key data we need to inform our decision-making. And help is available if you need it – with definitions, mechanics, and whatever else required.

I know it’s extra work each year. But it’s work we go back to again and again in our internal work, our discussions, our debates, and our decisions.

Some of that data tells us that, as of the end of 2022, 93 percent of Canadians had access to services that met at least our universal 50/10 service objective. That’s about two percentage points more than a year prior. Still at the end of 2022, we think about two-thirds of Canadians in rural communities could access technology that met our universal service objective, up by five points. About half of people living in First Nations reserves could – up by seven points.

If things stay on track, then at the rate we’re going, we should just about have the job done by 2030. You are on the front lines of these achievements. The data you report back to us helps us recognize the importance of an enabling environment for the work you do. It helps us pinpoint competitive weaknesses. It lets us better try to prevent federal and provincial broadband programs from funding overbuilds. Please try and take that into account when you are clicking around on those data collection forms.

Broadband Fund

Speaking of broadband funding, a very brief update there as well.

Because you are on the front lines, you know that as more and more homes are connected, the ones that remain are the hardest to get to, in ways that markets have a hard time solving alone. We are playing a small part with the Broadband Fund we got underway in 2019. It’s part of our work to shift our regulatory models to ones centred, not around the Public Switched Telephone Network, but around broadband.

The Broadband Fund’s first call for applications, in June 2019, funded five projects. Its second call, in October 2019, funded 44 projects. Our third call, which closed in June of last year, saw more than 100 applications asking, overall, for nearly $1.9 billion in funding. We began rolling out decisions in December, with an announcement about a project slated to bring broadband to communities across Nunavut, as long as all of its conditions are met. We are moving quickly to roll out the remaining decisions from that third call in the coming weeks and months.

In the meantime, our consultation on how the fund should work going forward is set to close this spring, with our decision to come. One of the things we looked at is how to better respond to the particular economic and social needs articulated by Indigenous peoples and communities. Some others are how we address transport gaps and resiliency, and whether and how to shift into operational funding. We’re also looking at how to make it easier to apply, and how to make it faster to get out our approvals. So stay tuned.

Fixed wireless broadband measurement

Another item I wanted to draw your attention to is the third phase of what we call the Measuring Broadband Canada project. This project has been going since 2016 through a partnership with SamKnows, a British company that has since been acquired by Cisco. It measures residential broadband performance, including throughput.

In the first two phases, 2016 and 2020, we collected data from about 5,000 Canadian volunteers, which led to public reports. This third phase has been focused on fixed wireless. So stay tuned for the report from this latest phase.

Wireless attachments

Next, network builds. We’re aware that one of our most important roles is in reducing market barriers to new builds that connect the un- and less-connected. Like you, we want to see the efficient use of existing passive infrastructure to help spur network investment.

Our decision on telecom poles established new, faster timelines for large phone companies to provide pole access. We hope it will prove to have been a step in that direction. This month we took another step to clarify those rules: we’re looking at what is special or different about wireless facilities on incumbent support structures, including small cells.

Our notice of consultation asks eight questions on this topic for April 5th, with comments on other people’s submissions for May 6th. How do existing support structures accommodate new wireless attachments? What kinds of wireless facilities are we even talking about – what’s being deployed and will be deployed in coming years? How does that jibe with the existing framework for pole attachments? What regulatory changes – if any -- are needed to support the build-out of networks in ways that can be swift and smooth for all concerned?

Our decision will be based on the evidence that stakeholders file. That includes you. I invite each of you to make your voice heard, whether individually, collectively, such as through CanWISP, or both. It really takes no more than a letter.

Accessing transport facilities

Another area that has been discussed as a potential barrier to network deployment from many smaller facilities-based telcos, like yourselves, is the discoverability of transport networks and then access to them at economic rates. It affects the deployment of rural broadband. It also affects the viability of services like disaggregated wholesale network access, which presume the ability to locate or deploy backhaul, contract with the transport provider of one’s choosing to provide it, and interconnect the access segment to that transport provider with no more friction than necessary.

Transport competition is a topic we consulted on back in 2019. That consultation led to revisions to our framework for pole access, but not to our framework for transport. Well, we have not slept on this topic. Some of you may have spotted something about this in the notice leading to the wholesale network access hearings being held this week, which stated that the Commission is examining the availability of transport services, and any barriers to the extension of transport networks in rural and remote areas. At the same time, our review of the Broadband Fund we administer is also looking at transport, this time from the funding standpoint. In short, we are continuing our work in this area. Stay tuned.

Simplifying reporting requirements

Finally, let me come full circle. I started out talking about the annual data collection exercise before getting to the Broadband Fund, measurement program, wireless attachments, and transport. So let me now revisit the topic, but under the heading of reporting burden.

Earlier I emphasized the importance of the data we collect as a base layer for our other evidence-gathering activities. It’s how we know that, as of the end of 2022, there were almost 300 telecom providers in Canada reporting fixed wireless coverage to more than 825,000 retail subscribers. That number of subscribers has grown on average 8% annually over the past five years. Retail revenues for reporting fixed wireless services totalled more than $874 million in 2022 alone. These kinds of valuable insights help shape our understanding of your business. But not every fixed wireless provider responds to CRTC surveys. Ideally, we would have complete, accurate and timely reports from all providers.

But we’re also conscious of reporting burden, especially on the smallest companies for whom filling out forms means an afternoon not getting in the truck and fixing antenna placement. I know that you report to the CRTC Data Collection exercise, and again annually to the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services, and then again to the number portability consortium.

It’s a lot.

So I do want to tell you that we’re aware. We have begun to look at how we can make your filings more efficient and at how we can eliminate duplication. I am committed to working with our counterparts to streamline these processes so that you don’t have a bunch of different entities all asking you the same thing. One of our most basic jobs in serving Canadians more effectively is to take some of that regulatory burden off your shoulders so you can focus on what you do best: serving your customers.


I want to again thank you for the opportunity to speak today. As you can see, there’s a lot going on at the CRTC at the moment. The message I want to leave you with is to keep the channels of discussion open. Whether through formal interventions in our proceedings, through discussion forums and events such as this, or even by meeting with us at the CRTC, our doors and our ears are always open.

The CRTC should never be a black box. That’s why we have regional Commissioners spread out across the country, and leadership and staff here in Gatineau that is well‑used to meeting with stakeholders. So please don’t be a stranger. Consider setting up a meeting with your regional Commissioner for BC and Yukon, or for Alberta and the NWT, or for Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Or for Quebec, or for the Atlantic Region and Nunavut – or, if you’re in Ontario, with me. I’m based in Toronto, but I make house calls across the province.

We recognize and appreciate the role played by fixed wireless connectivity in developing locally responsive services, fostering affordability, and creating competitive alternatives. If there is time for questions, I’d be glad to take some.


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