When the Harper government fell, it left three important telecommunications-related initiatives on the table that Industry Minister Tony Clement has been pushing:
--Creating a national digital economy strategy;
--Setting the rules for the upcoming 700 Mhz wireless auction;
--Reforming foreign telecom and broadcasting ownership rules.
Will the parties make their positions on these issues clearer in the election campaign?
The three issues are intimately tied together.The goal of a digital strategy, the government has said, is to encourage businesses to adopt new information and communications technologies to strengthen the economy. So a government strategy might include setting a minimum wired and wireless broadband speed target Internet providers have to provide to households, because without adequate speed new technologies can't spread. To go along with that, it might include a target of reaching broadband even the most remote households, for without ubiquity large swaths of the country will be left out. To make these targets effective, a time period would be set.
For example, in the United States the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set a goal of bringing 100 megabits-per-second service to 100 million American homes by 2020.
STATUS: Clement promised in March the Conservatives’ digital economy strategy would be released this spring.
Assuming the government goes this way, carriers might need to boost their infrastructure and therefore need to find considerable financing -- possibly from foreign investors. But at the moment the Telecommunications and Broadcasting acts prevent foreign companies from controlling Canadian carriers.
Clement promised reform after the cabinet had to overturn a ruling of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that the parent of Wind Mobile wasn't controlled by Canadians. But his goal of presenting legislation last fall was derailed when the government realized foreign ownership is also tied to the spectrum auction and the Conservatives' desire to encourage competition.
The auction, likely to be held next year, will play a major role in the broadband infrastructure for the future. The 700 Mhz band is highly prized for is ability to efficiently carry signals, making it ideal for so-called fourth generation wireless technology that promises data speeds of 100 Megabits a second and more (under ideal conditions).
An increasing number of countries are adding 4G networks, mainly using LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology. Not having had our 700 Mhz auction, Canadian carriers aren’t in a position yet to join them.
But who will be eligible to bid on that spectrum?