A complex interplay of technology, services and end-user requirements inform the rules that govern phone companies, according to Charles Dalfen, chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), indicating that the regulation process is more complicated than it's sometimes made out to be.
That was one of the insights gleaned from the Canadian Telecom Summit, a communications-minded conference in Toronto on June 16 and 17 that provided an indication of how the telecom industry might look in the future. Speaking before Summit attendees, Dalfen said he's "troubled" by the "false dichotomy" that some people apply to telecom regulation. They pit the notion of a regulation-free, market-driven industry that caters to established carriers like Bell Canada and Telus Corp. against the idea of a heavily regulated sector that panders to newer entrants like Call-Net Enterprises Inc. But regulation "is not as black and white as these arguments suggest," Dalfen said.
He said that creating rules to foster a competitive telecom landscape is a difficult procedure. It takes myriad factors into account. The CRTC must keep its eye on emerging technologies like voice over IP (VoIP), and new service providers such as Rogers Communications Inc., a cable company looking to offer VoIP service next year. The Commission must also mind trends among service providers, such as the carrier consolidation occurring now (Bell is acquiring Vancouver's 360networks Corp.; Telus has made a play for mobile phone service provider Microcell Telecommunications Inc.; MTS Inc. in Winnipeg has acquired Allstream), as well as the increasing popularity of wireless voice and data services.
"We will be watching these developments with great interest," Dalfen said, adding later that the CRTC would forbear products from regulation "as and when...competition permits." Dalfen also said the Commission might create a set of criteria to test services for deregulation.
The Commission is supposed to regulate things like local phone service to ensure that established carriers can't set prices so low that the Call-Nets of the world wouldn't be able to compete, among other economic impetuses. The CRTC is steeped in a discussion about VoIP regulation these days. Dalfen said his group would decide whether or not VoIP should be regulated early next year.
But judging by the words of Sheridan Scott, one might wonder if the government itself is ready for a deregulated telecom industry. Scott, commissioner of competition at the Canadian Competition Bureau, said the feds face a pile of work to integrate disparate departments before the government is properly prepped for a market-driven phone sector.
Scott pointed out that the Competition Bureau would enforce competition rules should telecom become regulation-free. But for now the Bureau is not allowed to view confidential CRTC information — data that would facilitate competitive dispute resolutions.