Industry Minister Maxime Bernier spent two hours before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science, and Technology yesterday afternoon to talk telecom deregulation. I attended the hearing and came away with several impressions. First, much of the discussion fails to distinguish between communications services as the discussion frequently veers between local telephony, long distance, wireless, and Internet access without anyone bothering to distinguish between them.
Second, it is striking that the Minister is seemingly studying every issue associated with telecom reform except for the reform that he is actually undertaking. Bernier was asked repeatedly about many of the Telecom Policy Reform Panel report recommendations including a consumer ombuds role, sunset clauses, and net neutrality (one committee member argued that the Minister has "cherry picked" a few recommendations). In each instance, despite nearly a year passing since the panel report's release, he indicated that the issue is still being studied. The one exception? The deregulation of local telephone service. When asked if his department had actually conducted any studies of the anticipated market effects of deregulation, the answer was ultimately no.
Finally, the issue of net neutrality was raised by NDP MP Charlie Angus, who asked Bernier for his views on the issues. Bernier's response was a near-identical recitation of the documents released under ATIP. The Minister emphasized the speed of the Internet, the need for caution before regulating, and the importance of not limiting innovation in the telecom space before concluding that he has no firm opinion yet. He's studying the issue.