Nordicity Insight: International Institute of Communications 2016 Conference
Posted by Sabrina Wilkinson in Ottawa on Nov 21, 2016

“So what will the world of Canadian communication look like five years from now? […] I envision a CRTC that is viewed as a trusted enabler in its mission to ensure that Canadians have access to a world-class communication system. I see Canadians firmly placed at the heart of their communication system”

-          Jean-Pierre Blais, CRTC Chairman

The International Institute of Communications (IIC) 2016 Conference Towards an Innovation Agenda for the Communications and Media Sector at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa last week is one of several events in Ontario this month concerning Canada’s digital economy, however, its symbolism should not go unnoticed. Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais’ keynote on Wednesday serves as a book end to many of the ideas espoused in the Chairman’s keynote at this same conference in 2012, including those quoted above.

Blais, whose five-year term will end June 2017, looked back on his time in the office, highlighting the Regulator’s role in bringing Canadians to the centre of conversations around Canada’s communication system. He also looked to the future, citing the crucial importance of an ongoing engagement with Canadians as imperative for the CRTC’s efficacy, as well as the success of Canadian communications firms. Indeed, Blais suggested, “content may be king, but the viewer is emperor”. These remarks follow recent initiatives from the Regulator to involve Canadians in the public process including the opening of a Reddit thread in advance of the CRTC’s week-long proceeding on differential pricing practices.

Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, and Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, also garnered much interest from the participating industry members, public interest groups, academics and reporters. Joly’s conversation with journalist Jennifer Ditchburn sought to strike the balance between the promotion of Canadian content, and cultural exportability. Bains, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of balance between competition and choice, and investment incentivization. These comments come alongside the government’s deliberations on spectrum allocation in the valuable 600-megahertz frequency band. Threaded through both these discussions were remarks on the role of the Federal government and regulation, and the need for the inclusion of all Canadians in the digital economy.

The event also featured various panels peppered by industry leaders, Canadian content producers, academics and members of government on issues such as the media and elections, the innovation agenda, Canadian content and cybersecurity.

While the panels and ensuing discussions were expansive, the prevailing theme of the event was undoubtedly the need for the Regulator, government and industry to adapt to new technologies, and the new ways Canadian use these tools – particularly broadband. Indeed, Blais’ remarks during his keynote at the 2016 conference reflect these ideas, “it would be gravely irresponsible for the CRTC as the industry regulator to ignore such change and not adapt its regulations to suit”. It’s difficult to gauge the implications of these sentiments, however, they do point to the potential for broadband regulation in Canada with a greater focus on universal accessibility, and distinct quality of service measurements and pricing parameters. Canadians are avid broadband users – and it’s clear the CRTC knows it.

Sabrina Wilkinson is a Research Analyst in the Ottawa office with passions for literature and long distance running.