Canada ahead of the pack in telecom regulation, says study

The Canadian telecom industry is far better regulated than its counterparts in the U.S., Britain and Europe, a recent study concludes.

The industry’s regulatory policy – as set out in Canada’s Telecommunications Act and various other pieces of legislation – is relatively sound, according to the study by Montreal-based Lemay-Yates Associates Inc.

A revision of overall policy directives is not really necessary, said company co-president Robert Yates. “It’s more of a question of interpretation and how things are implemented.”

Brian Sharwood disagreed.

The study’s claim that a general policy review is unnecessary is inconsistent with its observation that regulatory issues need to be addressed, according to Sharwood, a principal with the SeaBoard Group in Toronto.

In addition, Sharwood believes there are several challenges with telecom regulation as it stands, including the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) decision-making process, which “takes too long.”

Yates, however, cautioned against debating minutiae, such as “how to change three lines in the Telecom Act.” He doesn’t deny there are challenges but said getting bogged down in details “won’t promote the industry and develop the sector, (especially) when it’s implementation (of competition law principles) that is the issue.”

The Lemay-Yates study also concluded that Canada’s telecom policy is well ahead of that of the U.S.– a finding Sharwood completely agrees with. “In the U.S. there are 51 (telecom policy) regulators. It’s what tripped Michael Powell up,” he said, referring to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) chairman’s recently announced resignation. (The FCC regulates telecom policy at the federal level, while there are 50 state regulators).

Yates said that south of the border, there are frequent debates around regulation – and whether it’s an intra- or inter-state responsibility. Such unresolved issues, he said, lead to delays. “In Canada we do not have such debates because there’s one national regulator, which makes for a cleaner and simpler system.”

But Sharwood said on certain matters the U.S. FCC has adopted a more “forward-thinking” approach – such as its stand on boosting productivity by encouraging new technologies.

“I don’t see or hear anything on how technology can be used to enhance Canadian productivity. The CRTC is reactive. We get a bunch of complaints about telecom companies and react to them. Instead, we should be focusing on where we want to be five or 10 years down the line and on how to get there.”

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