Evidence of meeting #85 for Industry, Science and Technology in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was broadband.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Susan Hart  Director General, Connecting Canadians Branch, Department of Industry
Christopher Seidl  Executive Director, Telecommunications, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
Luc Delorme  Acting Director, Connecting Canadians Branch, Program and Engineering, Department of Industry
Earl Dreeshen  Red Deer—Mountain View, CPC
Adam Scott  Acting Director General, Spectrum Licensing Policy Branch, Department of Industry
Andre Arbour  Acting Director, Telecommunications, Internet, Policy Branch, Department of Industry

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mary Ng Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

Perfect.

For CRTC, I always like to ask these questions. What kinds of ideas or innovations are stakeholders coming forward with, if anything, throughout the course of your consultations at the moment?

11:40 a.m.

Executive Director, Telecommunications, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Christopher Seidl

We try to get as large a record as we can on any of our files. We did get quite a lot of interventions on our basic telecom proceeding from last year. We had over 50,000 Canadians participate, including all of the major service providers, and governments as well, and technology groups. They tell us what's coming down the pipe in terms of future innovation. We try to understand that when we develop our regulations.

Going to your earlier question, where there is market power, we would intervene. For example, we do regulate the rates for Northwestel's terrestrial Internet service up north because there isn't enough competition to sufficiently protect the interests of users. We will develop regulations for wholesale or open access, including the rates they can charge other providers. There is such a service in the north for other providers to get transport in the north from Northwestel, so we will step in.

However, innovation is clearly an important part of the Telecommunications Act, and we always look for that and step out of the way. We don't want to be impeding that anywhere in trying to support the growth.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mary Ng Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

We've been hearing comments overall around net neutrality. Can you talk to us a bit about how that might affect the way you're looking at funding or how to get a bit of...? Are you contemplating that at all in thinking through your work?

11:40 a.m.

Executive Director, Telecommunications, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Christopher Seidl

In terms of the CRTC broadband fund, no, it's not part of the discussion. We set net neutrality rules starting back in 2009, and most recently this year as well with the zero rating decision on differential pricing. We want to have a level playing field for the application space in Canada. We see service providers continue to invest in their networks, and we obviously encourage that and take that into account in all our decisions.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mary Ng Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

Is there anything the government needs to do from a policy standpoint, understanding that this is a context we may be operating in going forward?

11:40 a.m.

Director General, Connecting Canadians Branch, Department of Industry

Susan Hart

I'm sorry. Can you repeat the question?

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mary Ng Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

In the context of net neutrality, is there any advice you would give to the government? Well, I guess you're going to formulate that advice. Is there any policy thinking around this that we might be doing or should be thinking about?

November 23rd, 2017 / 11:40 a.m.

Andre Arbour Acting Director, Telecommunications, Internet, Policy Branch, Department of Industry

Thank you for your question.

Minister Bains has been clear that the government supports the neutrality principles and that they are very critical for innovation in an open Internet in Canada.

The Telecommunications Act does have quite strong provisions that empower the CRTC to put in place regulations that give life to these principles and that are flexible, such that the CRTC can evolve its framework in light of new technologies. Of course, this is a very fast-moving space.

Also, budget 2017 did announce that the government was going to be undertaking a review of the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act. There will be further news on that in the future, but certainly net neutrality will be a key theme in that review.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Mary Ng Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

Thank you.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Thank you.

We're going to move to Mr. Eglinski for five minutes.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Thank you, and thank you to all the witnesses who are here today.

I'd like to follow through on a couple of things that were said earlier.

I come from the riding of Yellowhead, which is basically Alberta west to the Rocky Mountains, and almost as far south as Calgary. We have a lot of areas that suffer from lack of cellphone coverage, lack of telecommunications fibre, and stuff such as that. There are two major problems I want to talk about.

A lot of small companies have popped up. They put up a repeater or a tower in an area, and then they go off and market their product to the local residents. People buy into it because they're excited that they're going to get 10 megabits per second, or so much power. The guy just keeps adding and adding clients to the system, and then at peak periods such as from 5:30 to 11 o'clock, you can't get anything. It's just dead. The system is just so slow. If you get up at four o'clock in the morning, you can probably get what they promised you, whether it was 10 or 20 megabits.

My question would be probably to Christopher. Are there any regulations in place to control those companies from oversubscribing to what their service is capable of giving?

11:45 a.m.

Executive Director, Telecommunications, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Christopher Seidl

What you're describing is the gap we've identified in the underserved areas. I would consider those areas underserved because they're—

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

That's right. These are underserved areas.

11:45 a.m.

Executive Director, Telecommunications, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Christopher Seidl

They're eligible for the funding from various programs out there.

We should really try to stay away from any specific price regulation on the Internet. We consider that market essentially competitive in that case, because you do have choices. In some of those more rural areas, it might be just one fixed wireless provider that you have access to at this point. However, we really want the ability for others to grow out, so we don't have any regulations put in place on the small providers, especially for those rural areas. We're really looking to allow competition to grow out there or funding to support new infrastructure and upgrading of infrastructure.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

I'll move on with my question, then.

I have a community of 4,500 people. It's 145 kilometres from the next community of Hinton. It has fewer than five megabits per second, probably two and a half. The main provider is Telus, but Telus will not spend any money because it says it isn't a big enough population to invest in a new fibre optic line to that community. Is it still available for that community to apply for funding through your organization, to either go on its own or find some system to bring in there? When you're only getting one and a half to two megabits per second during the daytime, it's almost impossible to get anything done.

11:45 a.m.

Director General, Connecting Canadians Branch, Department of Industry

Susan Hart

For the Connect to Innovate program, the application period closed April 20 of this year. It would be too late to apply to our program. Maybe somebody did apply. I don't know.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

I don't know either. I will find out probably by the end of today.

Will it be open again next year?

11:45 a.m.

Director General, Connecting Canadians Branch, Department of Industry

Susan Hart

Given that around $4.4 billion was applied for in a $500-million fund, I suspect that once all projects have been selected, the full $500 million will be used up, which is why planning to apply for the CRTC fund is probably the best bet for this community.

It might have applied to the Connect to Innovate program. I don't know. If it hasn't, then the next step would be for the community to plan to apply for the funding under the CRTC. There is a good pot of money there, and it sounds like a perfect candidate if you're not able to even get five megabits per second in the community.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Not yet. Two and a half megabits is the highest.

11:50 a.m.

Director General, Connecting Canadians Branch, Department of Industry

Susan Hart

One of the things about broadband is that when municipalities or other jurisdictions are planning passive infrastructure, whether it be roads, utility poles, or bridges, the best and most cost-effective way to deploy broadband is when you're planning that as part of other infrastructure. If there are other roads being built, you actually include the fibre build with it at the same time—

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

The problem is that you've got 145 miles of somebody else's fibre.

11:50 a.m.

Director General, Connecting Canadians Branch, Department of Industry

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

You're dealing with a community at the end of the line.

I was wondering if funding is still available to apply for, and is there...?

11:50 a.m.

Executive Director, Telecommunications, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Christopher Seidl

Our funding has obviously not been launched, because we're in the implementation design phase right now. We'll have that decision next year, and then we'll set up the fund. Probably funds will start flowing in 2019.

As part of our decision back in December, we looked at transport issues. We said we'd do a research piece on that. We're looking at that right now to understand if there are some monopoly routes, as you might call them, where there is not sufficient access for other providers to potentially get access to those routes and to understand if any regulatory action needs to be taken. That's ongoing right now.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Thank you.

We're going to move over to Mr. Sheehan. You have five minutes.