The Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) kicked off the top telecommunications news of the year when it held hearings for its review of mobile wireless services in February.
Despite the world turning upside down shortly after, telecommunications news did not stop amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There were numerous noteworthy things, such as initial 5G network launches, new legislation, and calls for reformed privacy laws amid the burgeoning digital sector.
There was a lot of telecommunication news in Canada last year, so here is a rundown of some of the biggest stories that will continue in 2021.
CRTC Review of Mobile Wireless Services
The CRTC held hearings regarding its review of mobile wireless services in mid-February, and one of its main goals was to determine whether Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) should have mandatory access to the Big Three networks (Rogers , Bell and Telus).
As a reminder, MVNOs are providers that do not have an established network and instead rent access to existing networks.
Rogers, Bell and Telus argued that mandatory access to MVNO would have negative consequences on the industry. The operators argued that the Canadian mobile wireless industry is already competitive and that there is no need for mandatory access to MVNO. Also, the carriers said facilities-based competition is the correct policy and has worked so far.
However, smaller operators such as TekSavvy and Distributel argued that the current state of the mobile wireless market does not meet the needs of consumers.
5G network implementations
In 2020, the Big Three launched their initial 5G networks. Rogers was the first Canadian operator to launch its 5G network in January. Montreal-based national airline Bell followed suit in June, and Vancouver-based Telus launched its 5G network a week later.
Toronto-based Rogers is exclusively associated with Ericsson as its 5G provider. Bell is associated with Nokia and Ericsson, while Telus is associated with Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung.
Considering that the federal government has yet to make a decision regarding its Huawei security review, which will determine whether the Chinese company will be able to participate in the 5G rollout, the carriers had to go ahead without it.
Canadians won’t see the blazing-fast speeds 5G promises until the 3.5GHz spectrum is auctioned off in June 2021 and then rolled out in the next few years. Operators currently offer 5G service by adding 5G channels on top of their existing LTE core. It’s worth noting that Rogers began rolling out its standalone 5G network in four cities in mid-December.
With today’s networks, users can expect to see a 10 to 15 percent increase in speeds. It will be some time before Canadians can see the full potential of the next generation of wireless technology.
Privacy amid the growing digital age
As the COVID-19 pandemic forced various tasks and services to move online, 2020 saw a growing call for proper privacy laws. In his annual report, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien cited an urgent need for legal reform.
Therrien said the pandemic raised new privacy concerns in a context where federal laws do not provide effective protection, and argued that Canada has lagged behind other countries with regard to privacy laws.
One month after the report was released, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains introduced the proposed Digital Charter Implementation Act to modernize Canadian privacy laws. The new legislation focuses on providing transparency to Canadians and heavy fines for organizations.
If the bill passes, companies could face fines of up to five percent of their revenue or $ 25 million for failing to comply with the laws. It also gives the privacy commissioner powers to make orders, including the ability to force a company to comply with laws. The law also gives the commissioner the power to order a company to stop collecting data or using personal information.
Additionally, with the launch of the federal government’s COVID Alert exposure notification app, numerous Canadians had privacy concerns. However, the Therrien commissioner’s office reviewed the app and determined that adequate security measures have been put in place to protect the privacy of its users.
2020 saw the continuation of the wholesale rate saga, which will run through 2021. As a review, in August 2019, the CRTC lowered the wholesale rates that larger operators can charge Internet service providers (ISPs) and also ordered them to make retroactive payments to compensate. for the previously higher rates.
Towards the end of last year, Rogers, Shaw Communications, Eastlink, Cogeco and Vidéotron in a joint venture, and Bell independently, appealed the regulatory decision. The Federal Court then stayed the decision on wholesale rates until the final ruling.
On September 10, 2020, the Federal Court of Appeals dismissed the headlines’ appeals. The headlines had argued that the CRTC erred in law or jurisdiction, but the court ruled that it found no evidence for this claim.
By denying the appeals, the court lifted the suspension. However, the CRTC granted the request for suspension of the traditional operators and postponed the implementation of the reduced total rates until completing the review process and several requests submitted by the carriers, which is one of the three avenues that the traditional operators took to appeal the fees. .
In November, the owners appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the September decision of the Federal Court of Appeals that upheld the reduced rates. The Supreme Court will now decide whether to hear the case and consider reversing the ruling of the Federal Court of Appeals.
New legislation on digital giants
In November, the Minister of Heritage, Steven Guilbeault, presented a bill that modifies the Broadcasting law that would give the CRTC flexible new powers to regulate online platforms. Basically, the legislation could force services like Netflix and Spotify to support Canadian content.
The government noted that if the CRTC requires online broadcasters such as Netflix and Spotify to contribute Canadian content at a rate similar to traditional broadcasters, then their contributions to Canadian music and stories could amount to as much as 830 million. dollars by 2023.
The law gives the CRTC the power to impose fines on broadcasters for violations. Fines can be up to $ 25,000 for a first offense and $ 50,000 for subsequent offenses.
A few weeks after the introduction of this bill, the federal government outlined a plan to force multinational tech companies like Netflix and Amazon to charge HST and GST on services sold to Canadians.
The new changes are scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2021. The government notes that the measure will increase federal revenue by $ 1.2 billion over five years.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland stated that this will ensure that digital corporations pay their fair share like any other company operating in Canada. However, experts have said that this new tax will lead to price increases for consumers of things like Netflix and Spotify.
Other featured headlines
SpaceX’s Starlink made headlines this year when it applied for a Canadian telecommunications license in June, which was approved by the CRTC in October. The company then received regulatory approval from the federal government in November, after which it began sending out invitations for its beta program in Canada.
Starlink aims to leverage an extensive network of hundreds of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites to provide high-speed internet in parts of the US and Canada. For some rural Canadians, Starlink may finally be the way for them to get high-speed Internet at reasonable rates. As we move into 2021, we will learn more about the service with possible widespread public deployment.
Also, as mentioned above, the federal government has yet to make a decision regarding its Huawei 5G security review. As for the extradition trial of the company’s CFO, recent events suggest that Meng Wanzhou may be in talks with the US government about a deal that would release her in exchange for admitting a crime.
Finally, in 2020, the federal government released the first and second reports tracking its promise to cut wireless phone plans by 25 percent. The most recent report revealed slow progress toward the goal, but described prices for mid-range plans falling 8-10 percent primarily due to promotional pricing.
All of the stories mentioned above will continue to unfold in 2021 as operators continue with their 5G deployments and the government begins enforcing its new legislation.