Controversial changes to Canada’s telecommunications policies have been proposed by the Canadian Communications Minister, Perrin Beatty, in a new bill. If it becomes law, only carriers with less than 20% foreign ownership – or 33% if the applicant is a holding company – would be granted a federal operating licence. The bill seeks to give […]
Controversial changes to Canada’s telecommunications policies have been proposed by the Canadian Communications Minister, Perrin Beatty, in a new bill. If it becomes law, only carriers with less than 20% foreign ownership – or 33% if the applicant is a holding company – would be granted a federal operating licence. The bill seeks to give more power to the Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission by putting all communications services under its control, and by giving it the right to opt out of regulating any areas that it considers fully open to competition – the cellular telephone industry being the most widely-quoted example. The Canadian Commission would also be given a free hand in choosing how to regulate tariffs. Canada currently has a fragmented regulatory structure, with some provincial network providers regulated at a local level, some by the Commission, and due to loopholes in the 1908 Railway Act under which some services are controlled – the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railway operators were telecommunications pioneers, some not regulated in law at all. Despite the Commission’s wider powers, the government would retain the ability to overrule it where broad policy issues were at stake. Also, it would issue, renew and revoke the carrier licences, and take over responsibility for technical standards. Other factors to be taken into consideration under the proposed new legislation before a licence was issued woild include the service’s effect on existing carriers, and the ability to prove that demand exists. The Minister would also have power to introduce other criteria. Companies that are already in contravention of the foreign ownership rule, such as GTE Corp which owns around 50% of British Columbia Telephone Ltd and Quebec Telephone Ltd, are, however, to be exempted from the foreign ownership rules. A shake-up has been expected for some time, but the issue came to a head in 1989 following a ruling by Canada’s Supreme Court in the case of AGT versus CNCP Communi-cations. This established that, while the government has the right to regulate all telecommunications companies, this is not set down in law because the Railway Act made no specific provision binding on the Crown. Anomalies will, however, continue, one example being the Manitoba provincial government which owns the carrier, the Ottawa government not due to take over for some five years.