On Monday, the government of Canada issued a new policy direction to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), with the aim to increase competition in the telecom sector.
The next day, the CRTC seemingly pounced on translating the direction into substantial pro-consumer projects.
The commission announced that it is setting expedited timelines for large telephone companies, including Bell, TELUS, SaskTel, and Télébec, to improve pole access to competitors. With this move, competitors will be able to roll out their broadband networks faster and more efficiently, the CRTC said.
But the majority of poles in Ontario, for example, are in fact electric utility poles, governed by the Ontario Energy Board and not by carriers regulated by the CRTC, Mark Goldberg, senior consultant in the telecommunications industry, contended. He added that in many urban and suburban areas, wiring is, in fact, buried.
Therefore, while this measure can help accelerate access to telephone poles and lower costs in certain circumstances, it should nonetheless be approached with guarded optimism as, at the end of the day, the CRTC is not addressing the ongoing challenges of having to gain access to poles owned by electric utilities, Goldberg explained.
Rural areas will most likely benefit from this move, as the CRTC wrote in its summary that this regulatory policy targets rural areas to “help accelerate the deployment of broadband-capable networks in regions of Canada with limited or no access to such networks.”
To enhance transparency and accountability, large telephone companies are also responsible for providing details to competitors and the CRTC about the responsibilities for pole maintenance and sharing of costs related to the installation of equipment.
In addition, provincial and territorial governments are being encouraged to coordinate with telecommunications service providers and other stakeholders to facilitate network deployment.
Although it may seem like the CRTC is promptly acting on the new directive, it is important to remember that this particular proceeding regarding improved pole access was, in fact, opened in October 2020. The 28 month-long (October 2020-February 2022) deliberation, various delays and timing of the decision remains remarkable, Goldberg noted.
Meanwhile, the CRTC also went on to appoint a new executive director of telecommunications: Leila Wright, who spent at least a decade at the Competition Bureau in various key roles. She currently serves as the deputy commissioner for digital enforcement and intelligence for the competition watchdog.
“Her deep experience in competition and telecommunications will be a tremendous asset as we work to deliver tangible results for Canadians,” said Vicky Eatrides, CRTC’s chairperson.