Maxime Bernier calls to phase out CRTC as telecom regulator, open sector to foreign investment
Story originally published at the National Post by Emily Jackson
TORONTO – Conservative leadership hopeful Maxime Bernier called for the end of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission as a telecom regulator, blasting it as a “playground for bureaucrats” that hurts competition.
“We should phase out the CRTC in its role as a telecom regulator,” Bernier said in a keynote speech to about 500 people Tuesday at the Canadian Telecom Summit, an annual industry conference in Toronto.
Bernier, a former minister of industry, outlined his plan to deregulate the telecom industry should he steer the Conservatives back to power in the next federal election – and much like his recent stance on supply management, his vision departs from the Harper government’s.
The Conservative’s fourth national wireless carrier policy was a mistake, Bernier said, instead calling on the government to open the telecom sector fully to foreign investment, hold wireless spectrum auctions without preference for new entrants and to get rid of “bad” policies such as the mandated sharing of networks.
He blasted the CRTC’s recent decision to force major providers to sell wholesale access to their fibre network, saying it creates “artificial competition” and won’t foster investment. (Bell Canada argued this would take away its incentive to build new fibre, but the cabinet upheld the CRTC’s decision.)
He also criticized its yearlong consultation on access to broadband, accusing the watchdog of creating regulations simply to “justify its existence.”
“This was an obvious waste of time and money,” Bernier said, noting that 96 per cent of Canadians have access to basic Internet. “Once again the CRTC wants to impose a kind of artificial competition instead of letting market forces bring about real competition.”
Some applauded his speech, but others — including those pushing for Internet in rural areas and some independent service providers — raised their eyebrows.
“Canadians should be very, very afraid of that kind of direction,” said Susan Church, executive director of Blue Sky Net, a non-profit that aims to connect Northern Ontario.
“It’s ludicrous” to think that competition alone will lead to Internet service for the approximately million and a half Canadians in rural and northern communities where there isn’t a business case for pricey infrastructure, Church said.
“They deserve a basic service, one that they’re very willing to pay for,” she said, adding her organization is waiting for the federal Connecting Canadians program to decide where to invest where big companies won’t.
Bram Abramson, chief legal and regulatory officer at indie ISP TekSavvy, rejected Bernier’s stance that opening up wholesale access to fibre hurts competition. Consumers would only have a choice between two providers without wholesale access, he said.
“Consumers like choice, consumers like competition, consumers like seeing competitors hold each other’s feet to the fire.”