The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology hearing into the Rogers outage was notable for how similar Tony Staffieri, the Rogers CEO, and Ian Scott, the Chair of the CRTC, sounded on key issues related to the outage and the state of Canadian telecom regulation. In fact, Conservative MP Tracy Gray noted during the hearing that “listening to the answers from the executives at the CRTC, I felt like I was actually questioning senior telecom executives not the regulator.” Ms. Gray wasn’t wrong. While it is obviously the role of the CRTC to regulate the industry, the two were often indistinguishable, leading me to create this quiz with actual quotes from the hearing from Staffieri and Scott. Can you tell the difference?
Telecom by yum9me (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/53jSy4
The CRTC Shrugged: A Special Law Bytes Podcast on the Industry Committee Hearing Into the Rogers Outage
The Rogers outage came to Parliament Hill yesterday as the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology conducted four hours of hearings into the issue. The day started with Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, followed by Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri, CRTC Chair Ian Scott, and a panel of consumer and public interest voices. I was pleased to be part of the final panel and I’ve posted my opening remarks below and created a special Law Bytes podcast featuring my opening remarks and the question and answer session with MPs.
The Rogers Outage Aftermath: What Else Should Be On Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s Telecom To-Do List?
The massive Rogers outage took centre stage yesterday as CEOs of the leading telecom companies met with Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne to discuss next steps to reduce the likelihood of a similar event in the future. My initial post on the outage focused on three main issues: conducting hearings into the issue by both the CRTC and a House of Commons committee, competition policy, and consumer compensation. None of these issue were top of mind for the companies or Minister, who instead emphasized the need for agreements among the companies within 60 days on emergency roaming, mutual assistance during outages, and a communications protocol to better inform the public and authorities during telecommunications emergencies. The Minister also noted that there will also be a CRTC investigation.
While these are all useful steps largely modelled on similar developments in the United States, even Champagne acknowledged that this is “just a first step.” So what else should be on the government’s to-do list?
Responding to the Rogers Outage: Time to Get Serious About Competition, Consumer Rights, and Communications Regulation
Like many Canadians, I spent most of the massive Rogers outage completely offline. With the benefit of hindsight, my family made a big mistake by relying on a single provider for everything: broadband, home phone, cable, and wireless services on a family plan. When everything went down, everything really went down. No dial tone, no channels, no connectivity. Work was challenging and contact with the kids shut off. It was disorienting and a reminder of our reliance on communications networks for virtually every aspect of our daily lives.
So what comes next? We cannot let this become nothing more than a “what did you do” memory alongside some nominal credit from Rogers for the inconvenience. Canada obviously has a competition problem when it comes to communications services resulting in some of the highest wireless and broadband pricing in the developed world. Purchasing more of those services as a backup – whether an extra broadband or cellphone connection – will be unaffordable to most and only exacerbate the problem. Even distributing the services among providers likely means that consumers take a financial hit as they walk away from the benefits from a market that has incentivized bundling discounts. Consumers always pay the price in these circumstances, but there are policy solutions that could reduce the risk of catastrophic outages and our reliance on a single provider for so many essential services.
Bell on Bill C-11: Limit Consumer Choice, Weaken Competition, and Legislate Access to Cheap U.S. Content
Just over 11 years ago, I wrote a column for the Toronto Star titled U.S. Web-Streamed TV Could Change Game for Canadian Broadcasters. The piece argued that Internet streaming of television was in its infancy, but could soon become the norm with major implications for Canadian broadcasters:
While the use of the Internet to by-pass Canadian broadcasters is still relatively rare – most U.S. programs bundle the broadcast and Internet rights together – the decision to stream the games directly into the Canadian market could soon become the norm. The key determinant will obviously be money. Once U.S. rights holders conclude that it is more profitable to retain the Internet rights so that they can stream their programs online to a global audience and capture the advertising or subscription revenues that come with it, Canadian broadcasters may find that they can only license broadcast rights with the U.S. rights holders competing directly with them via the Internet.
I continued by noting that the Internet was on the verge of disrupting the longstanding Canadian broadcast model and its reliance on cheap U.S. programming. I speculated that the result would be that Canadian broadcasters would recognize the need to create their own content that they could licence online around the world.
That column came to mind during Bell’s appearance before the Heritage committee on Bill C-11 yesterday.