CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais participated in a fascinating question-and-answer session at MIT this week in which he bluntly spoke out on a wide range of topics including cultural issues, copyright, and Internet policy. I’ll have a future post on his culture comments (his copyright remarks noted that the zero rating decision may help solidify ISPs’ status as common carriers), but his frank response on Internet investment was particularly noteworthy.
Readers of this blog may recall one of my posts from June 2016 in which I noted that Bell told the CRTC and the government that requirements to share fibre networks could reduce their investment in the sector, but that a top executive told investors that it was going to continue to build fibre networks since they were critical to the company’s future, offering significant cost savings and higher revenues. It would appear that the CRTC took note of the same contradictions. When asked about the CRTC fibre decision at roughly the 34 minute mark, Blais responded:
“companies came to our hearing and advocated that we should not have unbundling of fibre. They were saying it would slow down investment, they would not go forth as much, it was different from the mandatory access we had given in the past. It was a new brave world, they weren’t incumbents. A whole series of arguments. In the end we decided we were going to mandate unbundling even on fibre. They went to the federal cabinet to appeal it. The federal cabinet did not intervene.
Oddly enough, as they were saying one thing to us about slowing down investments, they were having a completely different dialogue with the investors and saying quite the opposite. I don’t know what they think we read and don’t read, but I’ve got some very, very smart people working for me at the CRTC and we read investor reports, we read what’s in the news, we know what’s happening. So it goes straight to credibility when you make arguments in front of us one day and take a completely different position when you’re in an investor or shareholder call.“
Moderator Dave Clark’s last question asked Blais to name his most notable achievements as chair. Blais cited the changed culture at the CRTC with a far more engaged public along with the basic services decision. To his credit, the list is far larger (last week’s zero rating decision belongs there) and should include his willingness to rightly call out Bell’s credibility when it tells the regulator one thing and the investment community something else.