Thank you, Chair, and thank you, everybody. I'm very pleased to be here today.
I'm very happy to have this opportunity to speak with Committee members today.
This committee's work is very important, and I'm following your study closely. I have read with great interest the testimony of some of the witnesses who appeared before you last week and the week before. As always, it is a pleasure for me to be able to speak to you today.
As you know, the telecommunications sector plays a critical role in Canada's economy. Over the next two hours I want to take some time to describe the decisions I have made and the reforms we have proposed to date to modernize the dynamic telecommunications sector.
Upon being appointed Minister of Industry, I moved quickly to set priorities. I strongly believe that opening the telecom sector to decreased regulation will increase competition, increase our national competitiveness and productivity, and, most importantly, it will be a great benefit to Canadian consumers.
It was obvious that modernizing the policy and regulations that guide the telecommunications sector had to be a priority for our government. In April 2005, the government appointed the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel to study the policy and regulatory framework governing this industry. They were mandated to analyze the telecom sector and to make recommendations that will help transform the industry and turn Canada into a strong, internationally competitive player, all for the benefit of Canadian consumers.
A fundamental finding of the panel was that competition in telecom has evolved to the point where market forces can be relied upon, and they concluded that the need for regulation in certain markets should no longer be presumed. Giving due consideration to the panel's finding and 127 recommendations, the government is pursuing a course of policy and regulatory modernization in the area of telecommunications.
As you know, the concept of greater reliance on market forces is in keeping with the government's overall objectives of improving competitiveness and productivity in the Canadian economy; it is also consistent with the government's vision for a stronger, more prosperous country, as outlined by my colleague, the Minister of Finance, in the document entitled Advantage Canada.
Last June, I tabled a policy direction in Parliament instructing the CRTC to rely on market forces to the greatest extent possible and to regulate only when necessary. This was followed by our decision concerning Voice over Internet Protocol, commonly known as VoIP.
Stating the need for greater reliance on market forces, the CRTC was asked to forbear from the economic regulation of access independent Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services offered by traditional telephone companies.
In the best interests of Canadian consumers, in December, the government proposed to amend the CRTC's decision to forbear from regulating local telephone services.
In its ruling, the CRTC laid out its criteria for determining when it will refrain from regulating retail local telephone service on the basis of a market share test. However, the CRTC is still inhibiting competition beyond what is necessary, as it may take up to two years under the CRTC plan before deregulation comes to major urban centres. In the meantime, consumers are deprived of the benefits of competition.
The government is proposing to replace the CRTC's market share test with one that emphasizes the presence of competitive infrastructure. In markets where consumers have access to telephone services from a traditional telephone service, a cable company, and at least one non-related wireless provider, deregulation can occur. Under this test, service providers will no longer need CRTC approval to set their prices for residential services in markets where there are at least three facilities-based telecommunications service providers owned by three non-affiliated companies.
In a competitive market, consumers, not a government agency, should determine the prices they pay for telephone services. In a competitive market, there is no reason to regulate some companies while allowing others to offer the services they want at the prices they want.
In addition to leaving in place existing safeguards that protect consumers, such as a price cap for stand-alone residential service and continued price regulation in regions where there's little competition, we are proposing to amend the Competition Act. In December, I tabled in Parliament Bill C-41, An Act to amend the Competition Act. This bill will establish financial consequences for companies that engage in anti-competitive behaviour in deregulated telecom markets. This measure will aid in the reduction of unnecessary regulation and act as an effective deterrent to prevent anti-competitive behaviour and, where necessary, help to rectify such behaviour.
Let me just say, once again, how pleased I am with your work. I very much hope to take a closer look at the comments made as part of today's discussions. However, as you heard from Hank Intvent, the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel stressed the need for timely action by the government in terms of deregulating the telecommunications industry, where necessary. Why is that?
Well, the telecom industry is driven by innovation and high technology. As well, the landscape changes rapidly, and the government has to be responsive to the pace of this industry.
We should remember that the CRTC had already initiated a review of its frameworks surrounding mandated access to wholesale services, something addressed by the policy direction. As well, all statutory requirements under the Telecommunications Act were completed and extensive consultations have taken place.
Moving forward with this direction provides an intended course of telecommunication policy in Canada to the market, to the CRTC, and to the world. The reforms we have introduced will benefit Canadian consumers, providing them with even more choice of better products and services.
Thank you, and I'm very pleased to be here with you. I am now ready, with my officials—Deputy Minister Richard Dicerni and Ron Parker—to answer your questions.