QP – Telecommunications in Northern Communities

The Honourable Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate)

March 28, 2018


Telecommunications in Northern Communities


Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Senator Harder, the federal government has clearly stipulated that companies bidding for federal funding to build or improve telecommunications services in northern and remote regions of Canada must provide open access to their networks, with dedicated capacity available on a wholesale basis to third parties in order to encourage competition and to keep these services affordable for Canadians in the North.

Senator Harder, this is a critical issue for the people of Nunavut, who suffer from high prices and limited network capacity for telecommunication services, as you probably know from the time you worked there. They deserve to benefit from the lower prices, the added investment, innovation and choice that open networks will bring. It is, in my view, critical that funded parties do not stifle competition by providing themselves a head start in the retail market to the detriment of third parties.

Will the government ensure that Northwestel, a recipient of a $50-million contribution from the Connect to Innovate fund and a subsidiary of Bell Canada, will honour the requirement that funded parties must provide effective and affordable wholesale access as a condition of the funding contribution agreement?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question. He is correct in describing the policy framework this and successive governments have had in place to ensure the competitiveness in third party entrants.

With respect to the specific question he asked about Northwestel, I will make inquiries and will be happy to report back to ensure that compliance with that policy is under way.

Senator Patterson: Thank you. I’m happy to have a supplementary question, because yesterday, I had a minister respond to the preamble to my question, but not the question, so it’s great to have a supplementary.

Senator Harder, I draw your attention to Northwestel — which, as I mentioned, just received a commitment of $50 million — that submitted a brief to the House of Commons Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on January 30 of this year that denounced the requirement to provide wholesale access in the funding agreements. The claim was made that, contrary to all evidence, wholesale access discourages bids, forecloses investments and delays the extension of broadband.

If Northwestel is backing out of this condition of the contribution agreement of the Connect to Innovate funds they successfully applied for, would the senator agree that they must be held to comply with the policy and the conditions as a condition of a contribution agreement?

Senator Harder: Again, let me speak to the generalities. Conditions are exactly that: They’re conditions of agreements.

With respect to the specific matter of Northwestel, I’ll be happy to make inquiries.