The CRTC vice-chair of telecommunications says the regulator is looking actively at ways to expedite the release of telecommunications decisions. "Just over the past few months our senior management team - which includes the chair and the two vice-chairs and the executive directors of telecom and broadcasting - have been looking at a number of different ways to help improve the process," David Colville tells Network Letter. "The expedite was the first one where we saw a number of applications in front of us we could deal with more quickly because they didn’t raise policy issues. We’re now working on a number of others, but we haven’t gotten them fleshed out yet. But we are mindful of the problems in terms of delays." The expedited process referred to by Colville is spelled out in a circular issued on February 10 by the CRTC (Telecom Circular 2004-2). The new procedures seem to have resulted in faster decision-making. A month after the expedited processes were announced, the CRTC put the new practices and procedures into place to deal with three Part VII complaints. Just three commissioners instead of a full panel of half a dozen or more heard three Part VII complaints at the end of March, with decisions being issued a week later. A complaint by Rogers Communications Inc. and Call-Net Enterprises Inc. against Bell Canada over alleged non-compliance with bundling rules was first filed on Nov. 25, 2003. Following a March hearing, a decision was issued April 2 (Telecom Decision 2004-22). Shaw Communications GP’s complaint against TELUS Communications Inc., alleging a violation of bundling safeguards dated Sept. 23, 2003, was also heard in March and decided by April 2 (Telecom Decision 2004-23). The third matter, Cybersurf Corp.’s request to the CRTC to enforce Telecom Decision 2003-87 against Shaw Cablesystems G.P. was dated Jan. 28, 2004 and decided on April 2 (Telecom Decision 2004-24). Colville notes the commission is looking at ways to further streamline regulatory processes, mostly related to the actual decision-making process rather than the writing up of the decision. He would not elaborate on any of the other measures until they have been finalized by the commission. Colville was speaking with NL following a session at the 12th annual biennial national conference New Developments in Communications Law and Policy, held April 23-24 in Ottawa. During a session entitled Regulatory Reform and the CRTC: Time for Some New Ideas? that Colville moderated, lawyers from Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP called for the federal government to make changes to the Telecommunications Act to speed up the decision-making processes of the regulator. Among the recommendations made by lawyers Lorne Abugov, Jennifer Crowe, and Phillip Rogers was a revamping of the Part VII process. The lawyers suggest that the Part VII process be used only in policy framework proceedings, such as public lands, support structures, local calling area expansion, revised contribution framework, etc., that require broad discussion. Instead, the lawyers propose a range of new alternative processes, in place of the Part VII process, to resolve competitive disputes. They suggest that the commission could discharge its statutory duties through non-binding advisory activities, such as those provided for in sections 58 and 59 of the Act. The lawyers also suggest that "subject to the rules against unlawful delegation of statutory powers, there might be some scope to develop a CRTC staff process that resulted ultimately in a binding determination." Specifically, for example, the lawyers recommend that predominantly fact-based concerns and disputes arising between two carriers could be decided by a staff review meeting. Segregating and handling in separate ways different types of complaints, now all handled under the Part VII process, could expedite decisions, the lawyers note. In their paper, entitled Proposals for Reform of the CRTC’s Telecommunications Procedures," it is noted: "Among the concerns commonly expressed by all service providers are the delays and inefficiencies of the current procedures. An example involving a recent decision illustrates this problem. On May 30, 2003, the commission issued Decision 2003-33 dealing with certain amendments to the customer confidentiality provisions of the Terms of Service of the telephone companies. The issues were not factually complex. There was little economic or technical evidence filed. There was broad consensus among the service providers on many policy matters. Nevertheless, more than two and a half years elapsed before this case was decided from the time that the application was first filed by Bell Canada. In an industry evolving as quickly as telecommunications, two and a half years to reach a result is an egregious delay. Given that the issues were not particularly complex, a delay of this length is all the more difficult to justify. Nor is this particular case an isolated or unusual example; there are other recent instances of unjustifiably lengthy delays in CRTC telecommunications decision-making." Janet Yale, executive VP of government and regulatory affairs at TELUS, voiced similar sentiments at a session May 4 at EXPO COMM Canada 2004 in Toronto. She noted that regulatory lag is resulting in the need for procedural reform at the CRTC. She added that in an increasingly competitive market quick regulatory decisions are key, and that better regulatory enforcement is needed. Colville noted that he doesn’t see value in sectioning out various kinds of complaints currently covered under Part VII procedures. He suggested that there is no need to revise the Telecommunications Act as the commission already has huge scope to improve its processes. "We’re hearing a lot of people comment on the process, so this kind of forum (the law conference in Ottawa) is always good to receive ideas and kick them around," he told NL after the session. "But a large part of the paper (by the Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt lawyers) was actually going through the process of coming up with a new set of Part VII practices and going through a process around that itself. Frankly, I’m more inclined to say what are the kinds of ways we can actually go about (speeding up the process now) - which they address in the latter part of their paper - such as our expedited process, rather than worrying about codifying a large whole new set of rules and procedures." He added, "Why don’t we just take a look at some specific initiatives that we could put in place that can speed up the process and then do it?" He noted that with the recently announced expedited process, the CRTC clearly defined what kind of disputes would apply - ones in which no policy issues are raised. Colville also pointed out that the commission was considering ways of speeding up the decision-making process on the broadcast side as well.