It’s no secret that Bell Canada is calling on the federal government to review the current policy framework for telecommunications. While some competitors suggest this call for a policy review is simply an attempt to get rid of telecom regulation in its entirety, they are wrong. At Bell, we believe there is an important role for regulation. The issue is whether or not the nature of that role needs to be reconsidered in light of how the industry is changing. We believe that it does. The changes underway are simply too rapid and too profound to assume that the current form of telecom regulation in Canada is the best or only way to regulate. Other countries are not standing still, and neither should Canada. Take other Commonwealth member states such as the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. All have recently adopted some very progressive thinking when it comes to telecom policy and regulation, and although no one regime has all the answers, all have approaches from which Canada might learn.  An emphasis on competition law versus telecom-specific regulation One of the big questions that should be asked is how laws governing the competitive telecom industry are applied in Canada and elsewhere. At one end of the spectrum was (until recently) New Zealand, which at one time did not have any telecom-specific regulation at all but instead relied on general competition law to regulate carriers, a purist approach from which the country has lately stepped back.  At the other end of the spectrum is Canada, which with few exceptions continues to rely almost exclusively on telecom-specific regulation to manage the competitive environment.  Both the UK and Australia – and now New Zealand as well – are somewhere in between, thanks to reforms that have established closer relationships, both in practice and in law, between their respective competition and telecom regimes and regulators. More to the point, competition law in these countries has a direct bearing on how telecom-specific regulations are applied.  For example, the UK has adopted a new act and a new telecom regulator (the Office of Communications, or OFCOM). Designed to conform to the new 2003 European Union framework for regulating electronic communications – including efforts to bring telecommunications regulation in line with competition law and principles – OFCOM has the power to enforce general competition law as it relates to telecom specifically. Notably, OFCOM can only impose telecom-specific regulation in cases where there is market dominance and competition law is deemed insufficient to control conduct. This is vastly different from the approach in Canada, where it is up to regulated service providers to prove the case for non-regulation (i.e., forbearance) by the CRTC. Examinations of market dominance are now required before regulation can be imposed in Australia, the UK and New Zealand. Moreover, Australia’s competition watchdog is now responsible for economic regulation of telecom using competition law (albeit modified to accommodate some concerns specific to the industry). Wholesale versus retail regulation The international trend is for regulators to focus regulatory intervention on wholesale services (i.e., the "upstream market"), while imposing very limited regulation of retail services (i.e., the "downstream market").  The Australians believe that as long as the regulator concentrates on making appropriate access available to competitors, that retail protections are not necessary and, in fact, are to be avoided. As such, they have very limited retail regulation. Once again, a similar approach is adopted in New Zealand.  The UK regime, again as a result of the new EU framework, specifically requires the regulator to determine if wholesale regulation is sufficient to resolve concerns about the competitiveness of the market for telecom services. The regulator can only intervene in the retail market if it determines that wholesale market regulation is not sufficient to promote competition.  Again in contrast, the CRTC has only rarely forborne from regulating retail prices for telecom services on the basis that wholesale regulation is sufficient to protect customers (the decision to forbear from regulating retail Internet being the notable exception).  Furthermore, the CRTC often goes beyond regulating retail prices and imposes additional restrictions on how established telcos market their retail services, limiting, for example, the availability of special promotions and offers to customers. Now is the time for progressive thinking in Canada There is a clear theme that arises from examining what is going on in other countries – that is, a commitment to implement the form of regulation that allows markets to work effectively and avoids micro-management of the industry.  The Australians and New Zealanders are doing so by giving the responsibility of economic regulation to their competition authorities in the belief that such bodies are likely to be less interventionist, and the British are promoting the same through new statutory directions.  Canada has a lot to learn from these approaches. We need to adapt our laws and regulations governing communications so that they are more in synch with developments in the marketplace and elsewhere. This and other issues must be explored and debated in a meaningful and substantive way. And the best way to ensure this happens is for the government of Canada to initiate a telecom policy review.