A large-scale review of Canada’s telecommunications laws, urged on by a broad spectrum of industry players with Bell Canada at their head, has been concretely set into motion following the appointment of its panel members and the setting of its scope April 11.  On Monday, the government announced that a three-person panel made up of Hank Intven, Gerri Sinclair and André Tremblay will be responsible for examining a mish-mash of policy areas from competition in the digital age through solving the digital divide. The panel is to report back with recommendations to the government before the end of 2005.  Industry reaction to the announcement was generally positive as industry players applauded the appointments of three industry veterans to the panel and agreed that its three-part scope is the appropriate one. Despite being the main instigator for the review – Bell has been calling on Ottawa to conduct such a process for about a year (NL, June 8/04) – the phone company had little to say in reaction to the news that it has now been firmly established.  A spokesperson would tell Network Letter only that the ILEC applauds its stated areas of investigation. Despite the low-profile reaction, however, the company will likely take advantage of the process to push hard to get the CRTC to take the regulatory shackles off its business and create what it considers a more level competitive playing field. Competitive issues – and the regulations associated with those – will be an important part of the panel’s investigations. In an accompanying backgrounder to the panel announcement, Industry Canada writes: "Governments face the challenge of regulating the industry as it exists today and protecting the interests of its users, while at the same time not standing in the way of progress or restricting the benefits and adoption of advanced telecommunications networks and services.  The panel is asked to make recommendations on how to implement an efficient, fair, functional and forward-looking regulatory framework that serves Canadian consumers and businesses, and that can adapt to a changing technological landscape." The mandate is in the context of the government’s stated objective for the review, which is to create a framework for telecommunications, "maintaining an up-to-date regulatory regime, fostering an environment that improves access for all sectors of the economy, and encouraging the adoption of advanced applications and services." The emphasis on telecom has one senior industry executive a little worried, though he says the scope of the review seems flexible enough to incorporate his concerns. Michael Hennessy, president of the Canadian Cable Telecommunications Association, tells NL that he’s disappointed the review doesn’t put more emphasis on the convergence of devices, media and networks (see Newsmaker in this issue for further elaboration). "The one thing, and it’s not necessarily a big complaint, is that (the review is) still very yesterday in its outlook in that it talks about telecommunications regulation and how we continue the subsidized affordable service goals that we’ve always had and then, you know, ICT sort of peeking in, economic growth. It really doesn’t capture, embrace the concept of convergence.  But, that being said, they’ve left the scope wide enough that we can bring these issues in. I’m impressed with the people they’ve named. They’ve got somebody from the wireless business. Somebody from the Internet side. And, (Intven), who’s probably the expert now on various regulatory regimes around the world. It’s a good crew. If we want this to be more about the future and less about the past, it’s going to be a challenge to get beyond sort of today’s little micro-regulatory issues." A second area of study will be access issues, and the panel has been asked to recommend, "mechanisms that will ensure that all Canadians continue to have access to modern telecommunications services." The same backgrounder notes that competitive shifts have made it increasingly difficult for former monopoly ILECs to cross-subsidize services, a situation complicated by growing demand by all Canadians for higher speed data networks and advanced services.  The government has been successful to a degree in rolling out broadband to markets where many argue no business case exists for the private sector to act alone, but there is still a significant digital divide between have and have-not regions of Canada. Janet Yale, executive VP of government and regulatory affairs at TELUS Corp. says she welcomes the upcoming discussion in the context of the telecommunications review to discuss the issue, especially since calls continue for extensive government subsidies to address the problem. "I think it’s a question of whether or not is that really the best way to ensure the rollout of broadband access. I’m not sure as a company that we agree that it needs to be subsidized. The issue is: is the regulatory and policy framework conducive to the private sector coming through with…infrastructure investments? The best way to roll out broadband access, it seems to me, is to have a public policy environment that is conducive to the private sector rolling it out.  It’s not clear to me that the government needs to pay to put that infrastructure in place. That’s not their core business. That’s not their core competency. Are they going to run it and operate it? I don’t think so. So I think there are some important issues around making sure that we solve the digital divide, that we make sure that broadband access is available to broadly speaking throughout Canada and to more remote communities. I think it’s a legitimate question and the best way to do that is I think something that it’s useful to address in a forum like this." The final issue that will be examined by the panel is the adoption of information and communications technologies and research and development into those. The backgrounder states: "Given the impact ICT has on productivity, Canada must ensure that its levels of technology adoption remain competitive with the world’s other leading economies." TELUS’ Yale supports studying ICT adoption within the review framework. "If you don’t know and understand the ways in which technology can enhance both your business opportunities and increase your efficiency and effectiveness, you may miss out on some significant opportunities.  And so for small- and medium-sized enterprises that don’t have an IT department, and a head of telecom, it’s a huge issue to ensure that they are keeping pace with and taking advantage of the opportunities associated with new technology, which are more and more sophisticated. I think it’s an opportunity from a public policy perspective to look at ways we can enhance the competitiveness of the Canadian economy by making these benefits available to smaller businesses." To study these and other issues – the backgrounder notes that the panel is "encouraged to study and report on any other issues that, in its opinion, are essential to creating a modern telecommunications framework" – the panel will accept submissions from interested parties; hold public consultations to clarify those submissions, and commission a number of reports looking at telecom policy elsewhere in the world.