Mr. Morris Bodnar (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry, Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Minister of Western Economic Diversification, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-57, an act to amend the Bell Canada Act, is an important part of the government's efforts to stimulate investment and innovation in advanced technology and to promote new services on the information highway.
By repealing section 7 of the Bell Canada Act, the amendment takes us another step closer toward the realization of a truly Canadian information highway. Those of us who want to see Canadian industry compete and grow in the information economy will be the first to assent to the progress of this bill. I am pleased that members of the House share this view, as was reflected by the speedy passage of this bill at second reading stage and by the Standing Committee on Industry.
Let me quickly review exactly what the legislation will do. The amendment will permit Bell Canada to hold a broadcasting licence, enabling it to compete with cable television companies. The government's convergence policy allows for a balanced approach to competition in telecommunications and broadcasting services. That is why the government has established a no head starts approach.
Once the rules for competition in local telephone services have been implemented, Bell and its Stentor partners will be able to provide broadcasting distribution services. Competition could begin as early as the end of 1997.
I should note that broadcasting distribution and programming services will continue to be regulated by the CRTC under the Broadcasting Act no matter how or by whom they are delivered. The key result of this bill will be to open the developing informa-
tion highway to competition. This will benefit consumers who will be able to choose who provides their services.
Why this bill now? First, the rationale for keeping Bell Canada out of the broadcasting business is no longer valid. The prohibition against Bell Canada holding such a licence dates back to 1968. At that time, Bell was kept out of broadcasting and especially cable television, in order to give the young cable industry a chance to grow. As we know, the cable television industry in Canada is now very well established.
Second, the convergence of previously distinct technology means that telephone and cable television distributors will be able to compete with each other in offering a full range of services. Soon we may not only be getting cable service from the telephone company but also telephone services from the cable company. This convergence will bring businesses and consumers a host of new products and services and it will change the way we work, communicate with each other, do business and entertain ourselves.
Finally, because both telephone and cable companies are seeking to offer integrated services over their networks, consumers will be the beneficiaries in this competitive environment.
If you will permit, Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a few moments to provide a brief chronology of the initiatives taken that have brought us to this point.
In 1994 the government formulated a vision for the Canadian information highway, one that saw it as an integral part of the jobs and growth agenda. At that time the Information Highway Advisory Council was set up to examine key public policy issues related to Canada's transition to an information society and knowledge economy.
Following this, the government released an order in council outlining its policy on convergence. This policy focused on network facilities, Canadian content and competition in facilities, products and services. The order in council requested the CRTC to hold public consultations and report on issues related to the implementation of this policy.
In response, the CRTC held public proceedings in 1995. Over 1,000 public submissions were received and 78 parties participated in the public hearings which were broadcast live on cable TV channels across Canada.
On the issue of convergence, both the CRTC and the Information Highway Advisory Council supported the move toward greater competition. They also supported policies and regulations that will allow cable companies to compete in the local switched telephone market and telephone companies to compete in the broadcasting distribution market.
The CRTC's report "Competition and Culture on Canada's Information Highway: Managing the Realities of Transition" came out in May 1995. In this report, the CRTC said: "Given the commission's view that Canadian telephone companies have the potential to contribute to the objectives of the Broadcasting Act, and that they should be allowed to do so, the commission recommends that the government amend the Bell Canada Act to permit Bell Canada to hold broadcasting licences".
The Information Highway Advisory Council concluded its comments on the CRTC's report in its own final report "Connection, Community, Content, the Challenge of the Information Highway" released in September 1995. The council said that in liberalizing its regulatory framework for telecommunications, "the government should act to remove outdated and unnecessary barriers to competition and implement safeguards against anti-competitive practices".
These two reports provided insight and precision to the government's policy objectives.
Last May the government released its report "Building the Information Society: Moving Canada into the 21st Century". Part of the action plan in that report was a commitment to finalize the policy on convergence.
In August the government issued the final text of its convergence policy in which it confirmed the policy objectives announced in the 1994 order in council and set out the principles for implementing these policies.
The policy statement and implementation principles cover three major areas: facilities, content and competition. Obviously an essential element in the implementation of this policy is to allow Bell Canada to hold a broadcasting licence.
The policy statement included a commitment to amend the Bell Canada Act to remove the prohibition on Bell Canada and its subsidiaries from holding broadcasting licences. The bill before us today will implement that policy by repealing section 7 of the Bell Canada Act.
Technology is changing our world daily, eliminating barriers and bringing people together, offering new services and other benefits. We can help this process by expediting the passage of Bill C-57.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Bell Canada Act