November 17, 2020
Ian Scott, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
Check against delivery
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I am joining you from the CRTC’s offices, which are located on traditional unceded Algonquin territory. I would like to thank the Anishnaabeg people and pay respect to their ancestors.
It’s a pleasure for me to be involved in this summit again this year-even if we can’t all be in the same room. Nonetheless, I have a few ideas I want to share that fit well under your conference theme of Managing Disruption in an Intelligent Connected World.
That’s what we’re doing today, of course. And what we have been doing for the past eight months. We’re managing our way through a disruptive period of time-I daresay one of the most disruptive periods any of us has ever seen-through the use of connective technology.
And thank goodness for that technology. Imagine how our respective worlds of work would look if we didn’t have the benefit of broadband Internet and wireless connectivity during this pandemic. For some Canadians living in rural and remote communities, however, that world is a harsh reality which needs to be addressed. Not all of us transitioned smoothly into the digital world when the first wave of the pandemic hit. I’ll discuss Canada’s digital divide, and the steps we at the CRTC are taking to close ensure all Canadians have access to reliable, high-quality broadband service later in my remarks.
For now, though, I’d like to begin with a few words of appreciation for the work done by the companies you all represent to keep those Canadians you serve connected to their digital communities.
Extending services during the pandemic
When this pandemic struck in March, our worlds changed almost overnight. Suddenly, notions like working from home and holding virtual meetings-occasional occurrences for many of us-became commonplace. Most Canadians rose to the challenge presented by this disruptive pandemic by drawing on the connective tools at their disposal to keep their core work functions and everyday routines at least somewhat intact.
It’s thanks in no small part to the services provided by the companies that many of you represent that they did so.
So thank you for that.
But the message of appreciation runs deeper than that. As you all pivoted your operations to keep your employees and your customers safe during the early days of the pandemic, you also managed a significant jump in traffic on your networks. You did other things as well to ensure not only that the services you provided remained of the highest quality, but also that Canadians could continue to access those services when they needed them most.
You kept retail locations open for appointment-only visits for customers who needed in-person support.
You put a halt to service suspensions and disconnections for customers who paid late or who weren’t able to pay their bills at all.
You worked with customers to make payment arrangements that made sense for them.
You waived fees for data overages or removed data caps, and removed late-payment penalties.
You offered free channel previews and waived fees for educational content that was normally subscription based.
You donated devices and service plans to schools, students from low-income families, hospital workers and patients, and at-risk populations such as women in shelters.
Broadcasters created new content for distribution and gave away free airtime to local businesses that were struggling to survive.
What’s most impressive is that you did all this unbidden. No one asked you to do so. Government certainly didn’t tell you to do so. You did so with the knowledge that what you were doing was the right thing to do.
Those actions speak loud at a time when our digital lives have been transformed. Canadians depend on the services you provide to manage their way through this great disruption and to stay connected with their friends and families, their co-workers and their civic institutions.
So again, thank you.
Not all providers in other countries took this kind of action, by the way. This response was distinctly Canadian.
South of the border, the United States Federal Communications Commission drafted and urged providers to sign the Keeping Americans Connected Pledge. That pledge called for companies to do many of the same things you all did. And it was successful in the sense that it was signed by more than 800 providers. But the point I want to make here is that the initiative did not come from within the industry, but from its regulator.
I hope that as this pandemic endures and evolves, you will continue to keep the needs of your customers at the forefront of your decisions. You’ve set standards. You’ve raised the bar, and I’ll be blunt: I have expectations that you will maintain such high levels of service. From a consumer’s perspective, it is imperative you do. Because let’s be frank for a moment: this pandemic isn’t over. Not by a long shot.
While many of us have been fortunate to adapt our worlds to manage the disruption, countless others are struggling to keep their businesses afloat, their employees paid and their families fed.
Defending consumer interest
The pandemic has done other things besides turning our daily routines upside down. It’s created new avenues for online scammers to practice their nefarious craft. So let me turn and talk a little bit about how the CRTC has responded to a new wave of online threats that have emerged during the pandemic, as well as a number of other consumer-protection issues before us.
We received our first complaint about COVID-related scams in January. Between then and the end of September, nearly 10,100 more came through our Spam Reporting Centre.