Budget aims for speedy wireless number portability The Canadian government will create a three-person "wise men" panel to recommend changes to the telecommunications policy and regulatory framework. The panel, proposed in the February 23 budget speech, is to report to industry minister David Emerson by year-end on ways to modernize the Canadian telecommunications framework.Bell Canada, the main proponent of such a review, welcomed Ottawa’s move, suggesting that the panel should be selected and its mandate defined as soon as possible. The proposed review has won little support from Bell’s competitors, but it met with interest from some major users of telecom services. The Coalition for Competitive Telecommunications, representing many of the largest users, praised the government’s decision for a review. The CCT favours a regulatory framework that intrudes as little as possible on what it regards as a highly competitive business telecom services market. (See Telemanagement #219) Defining the scope and scale of the review will not be easy. The Canadian Cable Television Association, for example, wants broadcasting included in any telecom review. In addition, some industry sources say telecom foreign ownership limits are also on the table, though the budget speech did not touch on the issue. One thing is sure: even if the review panel reports by year-end, no easy task, nothing will happen quickly. For a precedent, consider the foreign investment review. It was launched in 2002 and eventually made recommendations, but no action has resulted. WNP on the WayThe federal government wants the CRTC to "move expeditiously to implement Wireless Number Portability" (WNP)—and the key word here is "implement." This is good news for corporate customers. If adopted, WNP would allow them to switch to another provider without having to give up their highly valued cellphone numbers. The Commission has promised to study WNP this year, but the government has gone a step further, telling the CRTC not just to study the issue, but to act on it. The wireless carriers have been arguing against WNP for many years. Even after the government’s declaration, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association declared for "an appropriate balance between customer demand for wireless number portability—of which the wireless industry has not received a great demand to date—and the significant costs associated with the implementation and ongoing administration of wireless number portability." Bell was only marginally more positive. Regulatory spokesman Lawson Hunter said that Bell is "open to considering WNP in a proceeding; if consumers want it, we’ll support it." Obviously, this is the year for user organizations to make their voice heard. CRTC to Receive Fining PowerThe budget speech also proposed that the CRTC get new powers to impose fines. This change is essential for an effective telemarketing do-not-call list (see Telemanagement #221). But the budget speech went further, suggesting that this measure might enable telecom regulation to "focus on results"—raising the possibility of a shift toward Competition Bureau-style regulation, where action is taken only in case of a violation. If this is actually where Ottawa is going, it could mean that incumbent carriers might not be required to file for prior tariff approval to change rates for regulated service. The budget speech also called for the spam task force to report quickly. It proposed an increased capital cost allowance for the carriers’ cabling infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, there was no mention of funding for further broadband accessibility initiatives. CDNA Ruling Could Help Business UsersThe CRTC has released its long-awaited decision on pricing for digital services leased to competitors by incumbent telcos. Rates paid by the competitive providers have been lowered. This could be good news for the country’s corporate community as well: not only will companies such as Sprint Canada be in a position to pass these network connection savings on to customers, but the incumbents will be able to do the same for business customers outside their territories. Service Withdrawal Comments In Bell Canada’s request for a simplified procedure for service withdrawal (see Telemanagement #222) aroused many objections. A typical reply comment stated that there is no need to create a new process, outside of the tariff approval process, to deal with the destandardization and withdrawal of low-demand tariffed services. Call-Net Enterprises’ VP of regulatory affairs, Don Bowles, says there are so few cases that require special attention that it doesn’t make sense to create an entirely new process. Bell responded to the initial comments in customary fashion. Competitors are only trying to saddle the ILECs with additional regulatory baggage, the telco says, slowing down their ability to invest, innovate, and become more efficient.