Innovation, Science and Economic Minister Navdeep Bains says the new proposed directive “in many ways” is a complement to the 2006 CRTC directive, and “where there is a conflict this will overtake that.”
This is the second time that the federal government has issued a directive to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 13 years. Then-Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) and Industry Minister Maxime Bernier enforced the first directive. This time around, Bains has proposed a directive that is yet to be passed and enforced.
The proposed directive was announced on February 26th and requires the CRTC to consider “competition, affordability, consumer interest and innovation” when making decisions.
Bains said there is a 40 day consultation period, which will allow MPs and Parliamentarians to “weigh into the issue.” He also added that once the notice is posted on the Canadian Gazette, the official newspaper for the government of Canada, Canadians will have the ability to comment. This notice will be up for 30 days.
“We really want to see those areas amplified and this will be discussed during the consultation period” – Bains
“Ultimately [this proposed directive] complements [Bernier’s] in many ways, and where there is a conflict this will overtake that. Particularly our focus is on affordability and affordable services and providing more competition,” Bains said.
“We really want to see those areas amplified and this will be discussed during the consultation period.”
Open Media’s executive director Laura Tribe said it is evident that the government is taking this very seriously and that it’s not common to have a directive like this put forth.
“This is one of those things that might not seem exciting to some people at first, but it is a big deal. We have seen the 2006 policy directive referenced in numerous CRTC decisions in justifying why they make the decisions they did, and it does meet the policy directive that had been set out for them.”
“So seeing that the government is putting this forward including the voices of consumers, including affordability, including smaller providers, knowing these are the things that the CRTC will have to justify in its decisions is a big step forward,” she said.
Wi-Fi first MVNO decision ‘prompted’ proposed directive: Bains
More importantly, Tribe said this proposed directive “sends a strong signal.” Bains confirmed this notion.
“This is the first time since 2006 that the CRTC has received such a policy directive, so the idea is to send a very, very strong signal to highlight our government’s priorities,” Bains said.
When asked if the proposed directive was made as a result of specific decisions relating to Wi-Fi first MVNOs, Bains said that after the first decision was sent back in 2017 and a second was released in 2018 “we felt it was a step in the right direction but more had to be done.”
“But from our perspective, it’s really about more competition” – Bains
“And that’s what prompted this policy directive. We want to really focus on the efforts around affordability. We also made it clear we want to see innovation and that innovation can be in many different forms so that’s up to the CRTC how they want to look at the Wi-Fi first MVNO and other innovative solutions that have been provided.
“But from our perspective, it’s really about more competition,” he said.
Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, said it was clear that the proposed directive was encouraging MVNOs.
“The government is signalling a shift away from prioritizing facilities-based competition in favour of alternatives such as MVNOs,” he wrote in an email. “The short answer is that this is a very significant development. I think that it makes it clear that the government has had enough of the CRTC’s approach on wireless competition, consumer protection, and affordability.”
Geist said he expects the directive to take in effect before the House of Commons rises for the summer in mid-June right before an election.
Sugar Mobile said in a media release it was “delighted” by the decision for the proposed directive. Sugar Mobile is the Wi-Fi first carrier that used a roaming agreement with Rogers through its sibling brand Ice Wireless to provide fall-back wireless service when not in its home network in Canada’s north,
The CRTC had disallowed Sugar Mobile’s customers from using Rogers’ roaming network as a primary source of service for its customers.
“The oligopolists at Bell, Telus and Rogers have whined to the CRTC about our innovative made-in-Canada services for too long,” Samer Bishay, Sugar Mobile’s president and CEO, said in the release.
“We are encouraged by Minister Bains’ announcement and we are optimistic that this new direction, if implemented, will allow us to finally offer Canadians new, cost-effective services like Sugar Mobile.”
Proposed directive did not come out of the blue: Dwayne Winseck
Many industry leaders were caught off guard when Bains announced the proposed directive during Question Period in the house.
But Dwayne Winseck, director of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, said this wasn’t “out of the blue.”
He noted that in the past the CRTC has been making decisions and moving at a rate that is not entirely in line with the government, citing examples like the MVNO decision, having to be directed to investigate telecommunications’ unsavoury sales tactics and forcing carriers to offer affordable data-only plans.
“Already cabinet has had to be a little too close for this file more than to its liking,” he said, adding that the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star editorials in the past couple of months urging the government to take a more effective stance has been the reason for putting out a proposed directive.
“When you got the Globe and Mail and the Star starting to pick up on this, it breaks it out of the peanut gallery and puts it in the public arena,” Winseck said.
“I think that’s critical, and the last point I would put on that is the upcoming review of the wholesale mobile wireless framework,” he said. That review has not been announced yet and is expected to be made this week.
“When you got the Globe and Mail and the Star starting to pick up on this, it breaks it out of the peanut gallery and puts it in the public arena” – Winseck
Winseck did note that he was waiting for the consultation period to happen and to understand how this proposed directive will work knowing of the previous 2006 directive.
John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), added to that and said that it was important to note that this announcement was coming right before a federal election.
He added that this was a “political swipe to the CRTC and a reorientation to the CRTC.”
“I think [Bernier’s] policy directive came more out of the blue and in this sense, there have been many signs. The government hasn’t been okay with the CRTC’s decisions.
“It’s too bad, they had many signals to change orientation more subtly than this and now they’re going to get something hammered on and if this is like the first one it seems to be impossible to remove it and this is a new reality,” Lawford said.
It’s important to note that none of the incumbent carriers have reacted to the proposed directive.
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