Information Policies Under the Harper Government Part 2: Market Forces Orientation of Telecom Policy

One-Line Description: Harper Government Believes Shareholders of Bell, Rogers, Telus, Shaw and other Media Companies should Decide Canadian Telecommunications Policy

Short Description: In 2006 the Harper Cabinet directed the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada’s national telecommunications regulator, to effectively not regulate and to “rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible as the means of achieving the telecommunication policy objectives”[1]

Details: Not even a full year into its first minority mandate, the Harper Government used an Order in Council (basically a decision of Cabinet that, unlike legislation, does not have to be approved by Parliament) to direct the CRTC to rely on market forces to the maximum extent possible while using regulation “to the minimum extent necessary.”[2] In 2007, Industry Canada, which has both policy and regulatory responsibilities for the wireless sector adopted the same approach in its Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada which stated, “Market forces should be relied upon to the maximum extent feasible.”[3] While the Canadian Telecommunications Policy, contained in section 7 of the Telecommunications Act, does carve out a role for market forces, these are balanced against several other policy objectives.[4] Not only does such policy direction demonstrate a lack of leadership in a key sector (particularly for a country the size of Canada where telecommunications plays a key role in connecting Canadians and communities), it is particularly poor policy in country where the five largest companies capture 86% (or $38.5 billion) of all telecommunication sector revenues.[5] Furthermore, it does little to advance the interests of rural and remote Canadians who live in areas where market forces don’t exist since it does not encourage the deployment of high quality, affordable and reliable telecommunications services in their areas.

[1] Order Issuing a Direction to the CRTC on Implement the Canadian Telecommunications Policy Objectives.1(a)(i). SOR/2006-355. Dec 14, 2006. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2006-355/page-1.html

[2] Order Issuing a Direction to the CRTC on Implement the Canadian Telecommunications Policy Objectives.1(a)(ii). SOR/2006-355. Dec 14, 2006. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2006-355/page-1.html

[3] Industry Canada. Spectrum Policy Framework for Canada. p. 9. https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/smt-gst.nsf/vwapj/spf2007e.pdf/$FILE/spf2007e.pdf

[4] Telecommunications Act. s. 7. (S.C. 1993, c. 38). http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/t-3.4/page-2.html#h-6

[5] Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Communications Monitoring Report 2014. p. iv. http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/publications/reports/PolicyMonitoring/2014/cmr.pdf