June 16, 2014 2 years 8 months ago

CANADIAN TELECOM SUMMIT 2014: Unpredictable government policy is failing the industry - and Canadian consumers

TORONTO – There are some conference organizers from whom you never hear a word, discouraging or otherwise. Not so for Michael Sone and Mark Goldberg, the owners and organizers of the Canadian Telecom Summit, now in its 13th year.

They generally set the overall tone for the conference with a punchy opening speech, delivered in tag-team format and this year was no different when they opened the gathering Monday morning.

“While wireless services flourish with new gadgets and a never-ending stream of new apps and services raising connectivity and instantaneous communication to new heights, the promise of new competition in mobile services, made possible by the AWS spectrum set-aside five years ago, is on the verge of collapse as independent new entrants failed to raise capital for the 700 MHz auction,” noted Sone in the opening speech.

Canadians are huge broadband fans, using their home wired and mobile wireless connections to stay in touch however, whenever and wherever their world requires them to – and this means Canadian network operators have to constantly be investing and improving, deploying spectrum, building towers and laying more fibre.

“This continues to be the trend and it continues to raise substantive policy issues as service providers – new entrant and incumbent alike – try to stay ahead of demand and seek to invest in newer, faster, higher capacity technologies,” said Goldberg.

In light of all that then, what are the right policies to attract and incent continued investment in Canadian telecommunications, he asked. “How do we provide a stable, predictable regulatory and policy environment? On this front, as we witnessed last summer, Ottawa failed miserably. On both sides of the river, our regulator and policy makers in Ottawa and Gatineau are failing to provide the leadership needed to guide the development of Canada’s digital economy,” added Goldberg.

“Regulatory decisions and government policy announcements show up nearly instantly as fundraising messages from the Conservative Party. It is easy to become cynical from such behavior. Last November, at its annual convention, Conservatives were told by Senator Gerstein, their chief fundraiser, that ‘message creates momentum creates money.

“Populism may drive healthy political donations, but questionable policy and legislation,” Goldberg said.

For example, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) “is certain to discourage the use of e-commerce, not promote digital adoption,” said Goldberg.

“Canada’s Digital Strategy, released a couple months ago, is more of an embarrassment, not a source of inspiration." - Mark Goldberg

“Canada’s Digital Strategy, released a couple months ago, is more of an embarrassment, not a source of inspiration. While it was encouraging to see the Minister extend funding last week for Computers for Schools, there has been a failure in leadership at the CRTC and Industry Canada to explore solutions for getting low income Canadians engaged in the digital economy. Kids need computers at home to do homework,” he said.

Asked Sone: “How do we encourage continued investment in spectrum and digital infrastructure? How do we ensure that spectrum continues to be made available in a manner that creates an appropriate balance between the various stakeholders’ interests? How do we balance the need to build more towers with local residents who crave five-bars of signal, just as long as the tower can’t be seen within eyesight of their homes?”

These issues are as relevant to this year’s event as they have ever been.

Sone and Goldberg laid out four key points what the believe would create the right conditions for Canada to lead in a global digital economy:

•          We need to drive a greater degree of digital inclusiveness for all Canadians, young and old, urban and rural, regardless of their economic station.

•          We need programs to increase digital literacy and access for disadvantaged Canadians.

•          We need to drive increased adoption of Information and Communications Technology in business

•          We need to improve ICT adoption in all dealings with government, especially in improving the quality and efficiency of health care delivery, and our customers need to be confident that they can engage online securely and with their privacy safeguarded.

“As we said last year, it may be up to those of us in this room,” said Goldberg, “gathered here at The Canadian Telecom Summit representing the leading stakeholders in Canada’s innovation agenda, to develop and impart the vision to create a Digital Canada.”