High Stakes for Users in Ottawa’s Policy Initiatives  In its February 23 budget, the federal government proposed telecom initiatives that could bring big changes for business users. (See Telemanagement #223) A panel of three experts is to recommend changes in the telecom policy and regulatory framework by year-end. The CRTC is to "move expeditiously to implement wireless number portability," enabling subscribers to keep their cellular phone numbers when changing subscribers. The CRTC is to receive the power to fine violators of regulatory rules, a measure essential to establish a telemarketing do-not-call list. The spam task force, created in May 2004, has been told to report quickly.These initiatives follow on a period when it seemed, for many business users, that the big regulatory battles had been fought and won. Beginning in the 1980s, in one hard-fought decision after another, the CRTC opened the road to telecom competition—in equipment, long distance resale, facilities-based competition, and finally in local service. The result was across-the-board telecom competition, which has brought great benefits to corporate users. A Step ForwardIn the years that followed, the voice of business users was seldom heard in CRTC proceedings. This silence contributed, for example, to the long delay in introducing wireless number portability. The formation in 2003 of the Coalition for Competitive Telecommunications, an industry group representing some 12,000 Canadian companies, was thus a great step forward. The CCT has presented user views in a succession of major regulatory proceedings. Its Chair, Ian Russell, explains the CCT’s views on issues raised in the budget speech in this issue. The CCT advocates that Ottawa place "greater reliance on market forces" with "minimum regulatory intrusion." Nonetheless, on several specific issues, like wireless number portability and the do-not-call list, it favours new regulatory initiatives. Clearly, business users cannot define a regulatory policy by a single principle. We have to proceed case by case. Why Regulate?Over the past decade, the CRTC has forborne from regulating a wide range of telecom services. Yet at the same time, we have grown more dependent on the Commission to police the delicate web of tightly interwoven networks that makes competition possible. In this regard, the CRTC Interconnection Steering Committee continues to play a vital and constructive rule-making role. When service providers lapse from the timely cooperation needed to make interconnection work, the Commission has often acted to call them to order. By fine-tuning the pricing of unbundled network elements, the Commission has shaped the economic framework within which competitive carriers function. The largest business users often feel confident they can negotiate the best possible deal with their carrier, and find tariffs a time-consuming hindrance, an outlook reflected by the CCT. But smaller businesses, with less negotiating clout, may do better with tariffs. While there is broad agreement that Commission decisions should be more timely, on other issues, like Voice over IP regulation, stakeholders are sharply divided. In this complex landscape, one thing is clear: the coming round of regulation and policy decisions will have a significant impact on business telecom. Telemanagement pledges to provide timely and accurate information on these issues as they affect users.