An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act


Defeated, as of Nov. 8, 2023

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This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Radiocommunication Act to require spectrum licence holders
(a) to deploy the spectrum to at least 50% of the population within the geographic area covered by the spectrum licence; and
(b) in respect of the utilization of radio frequencies within a Tier 1 to 4 service area as described in Canada Gazette notice DGSO-006-19, Decision on a New Set of Service Areas for Spectrum Licensing , published on July 23, 2019, to deploy the spectrum to provide service to at least 50% of the population within any Tier 5 service areas located within the geographic area covered by the spectrum licence.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Nov. 8, 2023 Failed 2nd reading of Bill S-242, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act

Public AccountsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

November 8th, 2023 / 4:40 p.m.
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Leslyn Lewis Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a point of order. Today, I was attempting to vote and was not able to because of technical difficulties. I am still on the line with the technical department. I would like unanimous consent for my vote to be registered as yes for the last vote, which was for Bill S-242.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

November 8th, 2023 / 4 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill S-242 under Private Members' Business.

The House resumed from November 2 consideration of the motion that Bill S-242, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2023 / 6:30 p.m.
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Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, this bill is multi-faceted. Unfortunately, it is rigid and highly technical and urgently needs a number of amendments. It encompasses commercial interests, logistical issues, economic considerations and, for good measure, regional development and the vitality of rural and remote communities.

We are living in the 21st century. Our lives are not what they were in the last century. These days, everything has to move quickly. Access to bandwidth, commonly known as a network, is a necessity. Millions of people started teleworking during the pandemic, which shows that work habits are changing, and reliable, secure Internet access is a must.

In November 2018, the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development launched a consultation to determine whether creating a fifth tier was necessary, given spectrum saturation and the introduction of new technologies like 5G. Tier 5 is the very local spectrum, the smallest service areas. After several meetings, the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development concluded that it was indeed necessary to create these areas. By subdividing further, it became possible to improve broadcast coverage in rural and remote areas, providing coverage that tier 5 could not. That is where things stand right now.

Experts found that the least densely populated areas lacked adequate coverage and that telecommunications giants were buying usage rights to spectrum that they were not necessarily actively using. Experts explained that telecommunications giants chose to do nothing with this bandwidth. They turned it into a product for financial speculation so that they could resell the usage rights for much higher prices than the initial auction price. That is capitalism 101.

Currently, telecommunications companies can acquire spectrum licences at auctions organized by the federal government, but they are not required to use them in their entirety. This situation is problematic for remote, rural areas where a company can hold a licence for a certain range of frequencies, but because it is not considered economically viable, it remains unused and inaccessible to the public.

The wording in Bill S-242 is very rigid, as I said earlier. A major problem is that there are no provisions that would provide an incentive for the industry to invest. More specifically, there is nothing in the bill to require any consultation with the industry that could lead to the development of a strategy that would benefit all parties involved.

What is needed is a formula that shares the investment risk. Of course, absolutely no one is against connecting people in remote areas or who are underserved, but at the same time, it is critically important to ask questions and call things as they are. Is any reasonable person going to put up a $1-million tower and provide expensive annual maintenance and upgrades in a place that can only be accessed by air? We will have to talk about the importance of public service.

The answer to that question may be obvious, but I would say that, in this particular case, it is not quite that obvious, and there could be loopholes. If the bill goes to committee, the Bloc believes it will need extensive amendment and stakeholders will have to testify so lawmakers can come up with an effective public policy. In its current form, this piece of legislation is not the right way to achieve those goals.

The bill does not take into account the interests of co-operatives and businesses or provincial and territorial efforts to connect the most remote communities. If the federal government wants to move forward, the risk has to be shared. No private company, no matter how big, is going to invest in sparsely populated areas where the investment and the operating costs eclipse any possibility of realizing a marginal profit.

Presumably areas of commercial interest, those likely to produce a profit, are already covered by companies or co-operatives. The reason some regions are poorly served or not connected is that existing policies offer companies no incentive to fill those gaps. That said, all telecom observers and experts agree that more competition in this key economic sector is absolutely necessary.

The telecommunications share of Canada's GDP is constantly growing. The government's shift to digital in areas such as health records, distance learning, income tax returns, car registrations—we know a thing or two about that in Quebec—is making Internet access even more critical. Then there are the numerous businesses that are transforming their operations by migrating to the Internet. Not being connected in 2023 leaves people vulnerable and excluded from new ways of interacting with the government. I would even go so far as to say that it excludes them from society.

Ottawa promised 98% high-speed Internet connectivity by 2026 and 100% by 2030. Comparing data from CPAC, or the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, and the CRTC, one quickly realizes that Canadians will have to perform a major national blitz to achieve this ambitious goal.

Quebec, however, grabbed the bull by the horns in 2021. That year, the Quebec government launched its Opération haute vitesse, or operation high speed, which was spearheaded by the province's high-speed Internet and special connectivity projects secretariat. The aim is to provide coverage to the 250,000 Quebec households that, despite private initiatives by providers and financial incentives from government programs, do not have access to adequate coverage in their region.

It is Quebec's department of energy and natural resources that has the mandate to track the progress of the rollout of telecommunications services. There is no doubt that this initiative has accelerated the rollout of services, a problem that has gone on for far too long for many Quebeckers. My colleague from Laurentides—Labelle talked about that and said that it has been her cause since 2019.

In the context of the Government of Quebec's operation high speed, the preferred technology for making internet services accessible was fibre optics. However, there are all kinds of other technologies that can be used to connect every home: the coaxial cable, fixed wireless and the low Earth orbit satellite. Several technologies can be used.

Let us come back to Bill S‑242, which we are describing as very imperfect. It is not normal for countless communities to be so underserved or, worse yet, have no telecommunications service at all. Contrary to what people living in cities might believe, this does not only happen north of the 56th parallel. Again, my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle said it best. It is more important for federal and provincial laws to be complementary and not in competition than it is to think about strengthening the powers of the CRTC, which is what Bill S‑242 does.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2023 / 6:20 p.m.
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Milton Ontario


Adam van Koeverden LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and to the Minister of Sport and Physical Activity

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the importance of universal connectivity and the importance of putting wireless spectrum to use to achieve that objective. I am also pleased to speak about the steps that our government is already taking to see that Canadians from coast to coast to coast benefit from affordable high-speed Internet and cellphone service.

When I was elected four years ago, over 5,000 households in my riding did not have access to suitable high-speed Internet. I am very glad to say that in the last four years, we have cut that number in more than half. There are less than 1,500 that still need an upgrade in service, and we are working day and night to make sure that happens.

Today, 93.5% of Canadians have access to high-speed Internet, compared with 79% in 2014. More than 99.7% of Canadians have cell phone coverage. That said, we want to do more. Our government is committed to universal Internet connectivity. That is why, since 2016, our government have committed more than $7.6 billion in funding to expand broadband services. It is working. We are on track to reach 98% coverage by 2026 and 100% coverage by 2030.

Since 2016, our government has also more than doubled the amount of spectrum available for mobile services. Our spectrum rules are designed to complement our investments in high-speed Internet. We impose strict “use it or lose it” rules that require providers to meet increasingly ambitious deployment timelines and targets. For example, over the next few years, the rules we established for our recent 5G spectrum auctions will mean that the benefits of this spectrum will extend to 97% of our existing wireless network footprint, which covers 99% of Canadians. These rules improve services for millions of Canadians.

Our government is also implementing other “use it or lose it” spectrum policies. We recently announced a new licensing policy that will give easy local access to 5G spectrum for Internet service providers and innovative industries as well as rural, remote and indigenous communities. We are also strengthening older deployment requirements and developing policies that will give new users access to unused spectrum even in areas where deployment conditions have been met. These policies are designed to support rural connectivity and rural economic development and to provide essential access to indigenous communities.

Bill S-242 wants to ensure spectrum is put to work connecting Canadians, particularly those in rural and remote regions of Canada. Our government's actions make it clear we share this intent. While the goal of Bill S-242 is to be commended, I question whether it is the right vehicle to get us there.

I am concerned Bill S-242 would create several unintended consequences that, rather than improve connectivity, would let big players off the hook and actually reduce existing services. I worry it would limit competition, chill investment and increase costs for Canadians.

First, the bill would set a universal population coverage requirement for every spectrum licence issued. It is important to mention spectrum licences are issued for a wide variety of important services and not just for mobile and Internet access.

Bill S-242 would apply to all spectrum, regardless of its intended use. This includes spectrum used for things like firefighting, transportation, precision agriculture, municipal services, earth monitoring and national defence. These users would risk losing their spectrum under the framework Bill S-242 would create.

Bill S-242 would also be applied retroactively to spectrum where the rules have been made, creating uncertainty and disrupting investment plans. Investments are already rolling out on the basis of meaningful “use it or lose it” requirements. That includes for 5G spectrum auctioned only two years ago. Changing the rules now is unfair to businesses and it sends the wrong signal to attract future investments.

I am also concerned the bill's timelines and coverage requirements would be impossible for small providers, leaving only the largest players in the game. This would reduce competition and drive up prices for consumers at a time when we are trying to accomplish the opposite. More competition is a good thing.

Given all these uncertainties, I am concerned that Bill S‑242 would not even improve connectivity. In most regions, the 50% coverage required under the bill is much lower than the actual targets set for 5G spectrum, which can be up to 97% of a carrier's mobile network coverage. Collectively, these networks already serve 99% of Canadians. However, in very remote regions, these requirements are too stringent and could force service providers to close down and leave communities with no service at all.

That is why the government sets coverage targets based on various factors, and only after public consultation. These targets are becoming more and more ambitious, yet they are achievable and are designed to encourage investment and expansion in new regions over time.

Access to affordable and reliable high-speed Internet is a right of every Canadian, no matter where they live, and we are on a clear path to achieve it. While I applaud the intent of Bill S-242, the government will not be supporting the bill because it would clearly do more harm than good.

Spectrum is one of several elements that support universal connectivity. It goes hand in hand with other enablers, such as technology, infrastructure and investments. These tools are all backstopped by policies and programs designed to best leverage these elements for the benefit of all Canadians. A one-size-fits-all approach to spectrum management ignores that reality altogether.

Of course, that was not the bill's intent, but rushing into a legislative solution is not the best way to move forward. I congratulate the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue on his motion to study the telecommunications sector more broadly. A closer look at the factors limiting access to the regions that are hardest to serve, and the tools at our disposal to remove those barriers, will only bring us closer to our objectives.

We need to ensure that we have the right framework in place to encourage investment, lower prices and improve services for Canadians. At the same time, such a study could examine ways to improve the overall competitiveness of our wireless communications sector and ensure that Canadians have access to high-quality, affordable and reliable high-speed Internet services no matter where they live.

We continue to take steps to improve Internet connectivity and the availability of services in rural areas. We look forward to studying these issues further in committee in order to promote the objectives we all share.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2023 / 6 p.m.
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Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to rise and offer my thoughts on Bill S-242, which was first introduced into the Senate by Senator Dennis Glen Patterson of Nunavut and, of course, the bill is being sponsored here in the House by the member for Bay of Quinte.

Essentially, what we need to discuss with respect to this bill is spectrum. A lot of people may wonder what that is.

I would say, first and foremost, that it is a very important public resource. It is essentially the resource that refers to the range of frequencies used for wireless communications, such as Wi-Fi and cell service. These are services that many of us take for granted, especially in urban areas and in work environments such as this.

Every time we pull our phone out, we just know that we are going to have access to the Internet and to important information. It allows us near-instantaneous communication with many of our work colleagues and our constituents, even though the constituents that I represent are three time zones away from Ottawa.

There are different lanes, or frequency bands, within the wireless spectrum. They all have different speed limits, and each is suited to a different type of data traffic. The government's job in this is to regulate and allocate frequency bands to different companies and organizations for use to ensure that there is enough spectrum available for everyone and that different devices can communicate without interfering with one another.

That regulation of wireless spectrum is the responsibility of one department, that is, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. ISED is responsible for developing and implementing policies and programs related to the efficient and effective use of spectrum resource. This includes licensing and allocating spectrum to various users, such as wireless carriers, broadcasters and government agencies. The decisions that ISED makes affects how quickly Canadians are connected.

I want to talk about rural Canada, especially my riding of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford. My riding is about 4,700 square kilometres of beautiful southern Vancouver Island real estate, and it is a very rural riding. I would say that about 90% of my riding's population lives along the east coast of Vancouver Island, going from Chemainus down to Langford. The most beautiful part of my riding, I would argue, is over on the southwest coast.

When a person is driving up to Lake Cowichan, gets down to Mesachie Lake and takes a left turn to go to Port Renfrew, they know that they are out of luck in terms of cell service until they get to the water's edge. This happens within a few kilometres of having departed the highway.

There are significant geographical chunks of my riding where, when one is out there, one does not have access to cell service. Indeed, this is true for most of British Columbia.

I acknowledge that British Columbia is a very complex province to get these services to. This is because of our terrain. We are the most mountainous province. It is a source of great pride and great beauty, but it comes with its challenges when one lives there. The mountains make a perfect physical barrier between two devices trying to connect with one another.

My constituents are experiencing these problems but, right across Canada, we know that the stats show a picture in which 63% of rural households do not have access to high-speed broadband. That includes 14% of highways and major transport roads that do not have access to LTE wireless services, the really fast kind of wireless service.

Up in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut, no households have access to high-speed broadband. Moreover, 72% of highways and major transport roads do not have access to LTE wireless services.

This is a critical service that is important in connecting us to the outside world, to safety services and for our work. However, so much of rural Canada still does not have access to that.

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority released 2021 data as a part of its Internet performance test. This showed that the median rural download speeds were measured at 3.78 megabits per second, compared with an astounding 44 megabits per second in urban Canada, a difference of 11.7 times.

The digital divide between urban and rural Canada is starkly seen in these statistics. We know that urban speeds have actually been climbing, while the rural Canadian upload speeds, on average, are falling and have not been keeping the same pace.

Let us turn to Bill S-242. I was looking at the introduction speeches in the Senate and here in the House, and I have looked at how other colleagues have responded to the bill. I think the senator who sponsored the bill in the other place summed it up quite well when he said that the bill is essentially the “use it or lose it” bill.

Bill S-242 would essentially amend Canada's spectrum policy to ensure that this very important and critical resource is used to connect Canadians and is not used as a vehicle for billionaires to be trading back and forth with one another. It would require that all spectrum licence holders deploy spectrum to 50% of the population within prescribed geographic regions contained in the licence area, known as tier 5 areas, within three years of acquiring the licence. It would ensure that those buying larger licence areas would not be able to meet deployment conditions simply by deploying to the urban areas within those larger tiers. They would also be required to service the smaller rural and remote areas nestled within. It would give the minister the flexibility to decide whether to revoke the entire licence outright or to reallocate those tier 5 areas within the licence to other providers that are ready and able to service the underserved areas.

There is also a third component to the bill, which is a civil liability clause. The intent of this clause is to ensure that if the licence holder, by acting in bad faith, does not meet the deployment conditions and has had its licence revoked, the population that had been serviced by it and had the service lost due to the revocation could initiate a civil claim for damages.

I will conclude by saying that we have a situation here in Canada where, if we look at the history of spectrum sales and allocation, we know that the Canadian government, over time, has been deeply discounting spectrum for smaller regional carriers that have consistently failed to deploy it. There are areas all across this great country of ours that are sitting unserved by broadband because of limited access to the spectrum resources. It is a scarce public resource, but it has been squandered because it has been licensed to regional carriers that have preferred to flip it for profit rather than improve the lives of the Canadians it is supposed to serve. This is very important, because it is estimated that next-generation 5G connectivity will add billions of dollars to Canada's GDP over the next half-decade. The lack of reliable connectivity in rural communities is depriving them of access to the 21st-century economy and all the opportunities that it has.

As the NDP's agriculture critic, I know that in rural communities right across the country, with the incredible advancements in agricultural technology and innovation, connectivity to the Internet is so crucial, especially with the next-generation machinery that is coming out, with its ability and artificial intelligence. If we want our farmers to stay on the cutting edge of agricultural technology and to continuously punch above their weight as the agricultural powerhouse that is Canada, we need to solve this problem and make sure that connectivity is where our farmers are doing their important work for our country.

Fundamentally, Bill S-242 is about making sure that those who buy spectrum actually use it. When somebody buys a public resource, especially at significant discounts, as has been our country's history, they should be buying an obligation to connect Canadians. This is an essential service. We must find pieces of legislation that would protect it and protect consumers, and that is why I am proud to say that I will be voting in favour of the bill's going to committee for further study. I believe there is an opportunity for some amendments to be made there. I look forward to listening to other colleague's comments.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2023 / 5:50 p.m.
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Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising this evening to speak to Bill S‑242, an act to amend the Radiocommunication Act, an issue that I care a lot about. I have championed this issue since I was elected in 2019, and yet here we still are four years later.

I want to paint a picture of what is happening in Laurentides—Labelle in this regard. I want to show my colleagues this wonderful riding, but they better not get lost because, quite honestly, there are many roads in Laurentides—Labelle where the GPS cuts out because there is no signal. People do not have to bring their phone if they come to visit us. Is that acceptable in 2023?

I want to take 30 seconds to name some of the 43 municipalities in Laurentides—Labelle. They include Sainte‑Lucie‑des‑Laurentides, Sainte‑Agathe‑des‑Monts, Lac‑Supérieur, Lac‑Tremblant‑Nord, Mont‑Blanc, Notre‑Dame‑du‑Laus, Notre‑Dame‑de‑Pontmain and Ferme‑Neuve. I will not name them all, but nearly all of them have areas where there is no cell coverage. Cell connectivity is not just intermittent but completely lacking in some cases. I have experienced it myself many times.

I am thinking of Sainte‑Lucie‑des‑Laurentides in particular. There is no signal next to city hall. It is not the time to get lost in the woods, and having a good sense of direction is key. We are talking here about 1,475 residents who are held hostage by a lack of service, which is, quite frankly, essential in 2023. This is also a community whose economic, social and community development is being hampered by this lack of service, which should be essential.

As everyone knows, the housing crisis has reached every corner of Quebec, and Laurentides—Labelle is no exception. Sainte‑Lucie‑des‑Laurentides would like to attract real estate projects, welcome new residents and offer them a dignified place to live, but it has to wait. A major obstacle stands in the way. Unfortunately, a lack of cellphone service has put a damper on all potential plans, and the municipality is paying the price.

In 2023, what are people being told? Are they being urged to come live in Sainte‑Lucie‑des‑Laurentides for an outstanding lifestyle surrounded by lakes, rivers, hiking trails and even a child care centre, as long as they can do without their cellphone because the area has no signal? It is the same story for other municipalities in Laurentides—Labelle. Only the names change.

I can think of another example. Let us imagine an entrepreneur, the president of a small business, who has to set his cellphone on the kitchen table to be able to work, to have the slightest access to the network. There is almost no chance of teleworking, with a network that cuts out every two seconds. How can anyone be efficient? I think this is unacceptable.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, I really care about the issue of cell coverage. During the 2019 election campaign, however, I quickly realized how much the Liberals were ignoring the issue. I also quickly realized how important this issue is to Quebeckers and Canadians. It is even a question of public safety. When people in a municipality tell us that, during a power outage, they have to knock on neighbours' doors because the Internet, cellphones, landlines and wireless phones at home do not work, that is another matter altogether. It is a question of public safety.

In recent years, the mayors of the 43 municipalities in Laurentides—Labelle signed a letter. The reeve of the Pays‑d'en‑Haut RCM also signed the letter, which was sent to the former economic development minister, the member for Ahuntsic-Cartierville. Twenty-four resolutions from 24 municipal councils calling on the federal government to take action were tabled in the House.

I even sponsored a petition started by an individual named Lynne Gornon. I applaud her mettle and hard work. She asked the federal government to work with big telecoms to build cell towers in rural areas quickly for public safety reasons. Thanks to grassroots efforts, the petition garnered nearly 3,500 signatures in a matter of weeks. Since then, nothing has happened, nothing at all. That is a difficult thing to explain to people, and it is hard to make the claim that this is an important file.

Along my route from here to home, I go through about 10 places where there is no cell service. I just found out that I can make a call with a signal if my car breaks down. I cannot actually call someone, but apparently I can call 911 if I have to. I hope I never have to try.

Why is the federal government doing nothing? If this is so important, why is it not doing something?

Let us talk about the bill before us. Telecommunications companies can acquire spectrum licences during auctions organized by the federal government, but they are not required to use them in their entirety. That is what happens and it does not sit well with us. For rural and remote areas, the licence ends up being unused, which does not serve the public. The bill will not be favourable to our proposal.

It is not that the objective of connecting every under-serviced area is not commendable. We believe that if the bill is referred to committee, a tremendous amount of amendments will need to be made. From the outset, we will have to ask stakeholders to testify to give us answers to some of our questions so that we know, as legislators, whether this is viable. In its current form, the bill is not the right vehicle to meet the objective, even though I agree this is an urgent problem.

This study in committee will allow us to have a bill that is much more comprehensive and better overall, allowing us to respond more favourably to potential investments.

I would like to talk about how the spectrum areas are managed. This could help the people who are watching us to understand this issue. This could be delegated to the Government of Quebec. As in all areas, the Government of Quebec is well positioned to know and recognize the most pressing needs of its communities. It has proven it. With operation high speed, Quebec managed to gradually meet its objectives.

The Government of Quebec's commitment and dedication in this particular matter show that we are capable of implementing ambitious connectivity strategies for Quebeckers. Finally, I think it is worrisome that the bill gives additional powers to the CRTC, particularly with regard to the management of spectrum areas and auctions.

It is of the utmost importance to me that the federal laws and Quebec's provincial laws complement one another rather than compete against one another. We need to think about our constituents. I think that sending the bill to committee is a good idea.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2023 / 5:45 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, this is interesting subject matter. I do not believe it would be in our best interest, ultimately, to see Bill S-242 pass. I understand that the Bloc in particular came up with an alternative idea of having the matter brought forward to a standing committee. I do believe there is a great deal of merit in that.

What we are talking about is an issue that I think there would be a great deal of sympathy toward. I care deeply about rural Manitoba, and at the end of the day, whether one is north of Dauphin or in any region in the province of Manitoba, we would like to deliver a modern spectrum that would incorporate rural connectivity. I think that is really important, and it is very admirable to see what we can do as a House to better facilitate that maximum connection. I do not believe that the bill itself would achieve that. I think it could add a great many complications and there could be some side effects that members would not necessarily want to see, like the billions of dollars in licences that have already been given out over the last decade and how that could potentially be jeopardizing. There are some very well-defined timelines that are being incorporated into the legislation.

I do not think that would be the intent of what the mover was suggesting. I think the intent is wanting to see more rural connectivity, like I do. That is why I think the INDU standing committee is well positioned. I believe it might actually be initiating a study on it now. I would like to allow that standing committee to continue to do the study, and hopefully we can come up with some good ideas as to how we can achieve two things: dealing with spectrum deployment and meeting the needs of rural connectivity. To me, a big part of it is about the infrastructure. We need to recognize that we need more infrastructure in our rural communities. I had the good fortune of being able to acquire a relatively modest cottage in Sandy Hook, between Winnipeg Beach and Gimli. Even though it is only 45 minutes away from the city of Winnipeg, there are some connectivity problems there. We now see fibre optics being brought into more rural communities in Manitoba.

Interestingly enough, the other day I was talking about the Canada Infrastructure Bank. One of the projects through the Canada Infrastructure Bank is rural connectivity. The point is that whether it is the private sector or government working and encouraging this through the possible spectrum auctions that take place, we should be doing what we can to encourage connectivity. That is why I was glad to see the Canada Infrastructure Bank had that as a project. Manitoba is not alone; it is one province that is actually dealing with some of the infrastructure through that particular bank. I am hoping the Conservatives might change their opinions on the Canada Infrastructure Bank, especially if they take a look at all the different projects out there.

Why is connectivity so important? I believe it is one of the ways in which we can ensure ongoing rural economic diversity. We can look at what is on the web today. There are a number of small businesses. We often hear about small businesses being the backbone of Canada's economy. I go to some smaller workshops and community gatherings where there are small business entrepreneurs getting their businesses up and running.

One of the things we will always find on their business cards is a QR code, which we can take a picture of to go to their website, where we will find amazing products being sold through the Internet. The nice thing about this is that we can live anywhere and do not have to be in the big cities, whether it be Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina, Toronto, Vancouver or wherever. The Internet can play an important role in levelling the field, providing opportunities for people in rural communities that were never there before. I see that as a positive thing.

When we talk about the issue of spectrum deployment and going forward, I think that the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology, or INDU, is doing its job in coming up with some ideas and recommendations of how we can incorporate these ideas when we do auction off spectrum so that all Canadians would be able to benefit by it. People would be surprised by the number of communities where a dial tone is virtually the best they are going to get in terms of speed, it would seem, at times.

The need to move on this is important, but I do not believe that Bill S-242 is going to advance the cause to the degree some might imply. In fact, it could be the opposite and could cause more damage. For that reason, I will not be supporting the bill. I would encourage members to go to the INDU committee and let us see it do some wonderful work and come up with some recommendations, because I am sure that it will.

The House resumed from September 19 consideration of the motion that Bill S-242, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2023 / 6:15 p.m.
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Dan Mazier Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill S-242, an act to amend the Radiocommunication Act. If passed, Bill S-242 would require spectrum holders to significantly increase the deployment of this finite and valuable resource.

Most Canadians will ask what spectrum is, and that is a great question. Spectrum is intangible, but it is an extremely valuable asset worth billions of dollars. In fact, the most expensive auctions in the entire world are for spectrum. Access to spectrum decides who can go online, determines who can use the Internet and can even save a person's life through a call to 911. However, to help understand the importance of spectrum, let us go back over 100 years to April 14, 1912: the day the RMS Titanic crashed into an iceberg over 300 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland. The tragic result was that over 1,500 people perished.

Some will say that it was solely an iceberg responsible for the fatalities of the Titanic, but many experts have pointed out that managing radio interference could have prevented the fatalities the night the Titanic sank.

Radios use spectrum bands to communicate through different frequencies, and back in 1912, radio communication was the most common way to communicate wirelessly. Historians say that the electronics of the wireless telegraph on the Titanic created so much noise that it interfered with the communication systems on ships nearby. In fact, multiple ships warned the Titanic of nearby icebergs the day it encountered its own.

To make matters worse, a ship by the name of the SS Californian, only 16 kilometres away, did not receive the Titanic's urgent call for help on the night of April 14. This was not because it was too far away, but because its only wireless operator had turned off the communication system after an earlier dispute with the Titanic over radio interference. As a result, not one SOS message was received by the Californian, although it was the closest ship to the Titanic.

This failure to manage spectrum prompted the swift passage of the Radio Act of 1912 in the United States. The Radio Act enabled the federal government to license wireless operations, and although spectrum was mainly used for radio communications in 1912, today, spectrum is the foundation of Internet and cellular connectivity in our digital world.

As such, although times have changed, the consequences of mismanaging spectrum continue to exist. The reality is that Bill S-242 was introduced because of the current government’s mismanagement of spectrum. Rural Canadians in particular suffer as a result of this mismanagement.

As the Conservative shadow minister of rural economic development and connectivity, I will focus on how the current Liberal government's mismanagement of spectrum has failed rural Canadians.

Later this year, the Liberal government is set to auction off the 3,800-megahertz band of spectrum. This spectrum is needed to connect Canadians with high-speed internet and cellular service. However, if telecom companies fail to use the spectrum they purchase, then Canadians will not be connected with the reliable Internet and cellular service they need. Moreover, because the government sets the rules for spectrum auctions, along with the requirements for deploying spectrum, the government directly influences how many Canadians will be connected with this essential service.

Unfortunately, if we examine the deployment requirements of the upcoming spectrum auctions, we can clearly see how little the government cares about connecting Canadians in rural and remote areas. The government has irresponsibly signed off on a plan that will shut rural Canadians out of accessing high-speed Internet and cellular services for decades.

For example, the deployment requirements for most urban regions in the upcoming auctions require a minimum population coverage of 50% over 10 years. Regions that include cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Regina and St. John's all require telecom companies to connect 50% of their population within 10 years. Members may think that 10 years is a long time for only 50% of the population to be covered with the newest technology, and I would agree. However, when we look at the connectivity requirements set by the current Liberal government for the upcoming spectrum auction, a massive discrepancy exists between how quickly urban Canadians and rural Canadians will be connected.

This is shocking in today's digital age when high-speed connectivity is vital to economic and social prosperity. Rural Canadians should be furious that the current Liberal government has signed off on a plan to connect rural Canadians much more slowly than the rest of Canada in the upcoming spectrum option.

For example, the good people of Timmins, Ontario, should be furious to learn that only 35% of them can expect to be connected with the Internet and cellular services needed in today's digital age within a lacklustre 10 years. In Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander, Newfoundland, the government is only requiring telecom companies to connect 10% of the population over 10 years. It is clear how little the Liberal government cares about Smithers, British Columbia, because it will only require telecom companies to connect 20% of the Smithers region with this spectrum band over an outrageously slow time frame of 20 years.

When we look at its plan for connecting Canadians, it is clear how little the government cares about connecting the rural and remote Canadians who need this service the most. The longer the spectrum deployment requirements are, the longer Canadians will wait to be connected. The Liberals love making announcements when it comes to reliable Internet and cellular service, but they have failed to deliver, miserably.

This Prime Minister does not care about rural Canadians. In fact, he has yet to learn what realities they face. I was recently in Yukon where a local first nations development organization told me that predators will deliberately prey on individuals along highways without cellular service because they know their victims cannot call 911 for help. These are the realities of the government's failed connectivity plan.

This Prime Minister pretends that his government has connected rural Canadians with high-speed Internet and cell service, but rural Canadians know he is misleading them. Earlier this year, Canada's independent Auditor General confirmed in her damning report to Parliament what rural Canadians already knew. Despite billions of dollars in announcements and multiple so-called strategies, over one million Canadian households and over 50% of first nations still do not have access to high-speed Internet. This report did not even include the many cellular dead zones across Canada that are threatening the public safety of Canadians, especially those in Atlantic Canada who just faced deadly hurricanes.

However, results do not matter to the current government, because the Liberal government measures success on how much of Canadians' money they announce instead of how many Canadians they can connect. In fact, since the Liberals introduced their universal broadband fund, they announced over $200 million in taxpayer funds for Bell Canada, over $38 million for Telus and over $5 million for Rogers. I cannot forget to mention the Liberals' disastrous Infrastructure Bank. The government announced over $640 million for Bell and $660 million for Rogers through its Infrastructure Bank, which has failed to complete countless projects.

It would be one thing if these billions of dollars resulted in high-speed Internet and cell service for all Canadians, but that is not the case. Connectivity projects across Canada are not getting built because government gatekeepers are slow to approve applications; connectivity projects are not getting built because there are so many bureaucratic programs that organizations are losing track of their applications; and connectivity projects are not being built because there just is not enough competition. The Liberals love announcing billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded money, but fail to connect Canadians.

This is a problem because the government can connect Canadians through better spectrum policy. Rural Canadians cannot afford to wait any longer to receive dependable quality and affordable service. As urban communities become connected at a much faster rate, the future of economic growth in rural Canada is at risk. It has become clearer that the current approach is not working.

In conclusion, sending Bill S-242 to committee is important so it can get studied, and improved if needed. We know the consequences of poor spectrum management. In 1912, it contributed to the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic. Today, it determines whether rural and remote Canadians sink or swim in our economy and our society. Canadians are counting on us to connect them. Let us bring it home.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2023 / 5:55 p.m.
See context


Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, to begin, I want to take a moment to extend my condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of my friend Mathieu Leblanc, who passed away recently. Mathieu was a colleague of mine from FAECUM and the University of Montreal and Quebec student movements. He was a supporter of the labour movement. It was very touching to see all of the things his family and friends had to say about him on social media over the past few days. Beer always tasted better when I drank it with him. I offer my condolences to his family. We will all miss him.

I am rising today to speak to a subject that is of vital importance to my region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue and all of the regions of Quebec. Cell coverage is becoming a critical issue for all communities. The smart phone that we all carry in our pockets is a tool that enables us to be in contact with our family, friends, jobs, businesses and institutions. Landlines do the same thing for those who still have them at home, but they are a tool that is being used less and less frequently.

In my region, like many others in Quebec, insufficient cell coverage can cause all sorts of problems.

To start with, I should mention our diminished capacity to attract residents, especially in rural communities. This hits close to home for me. My office manager, Christian, lives in Destor, a rural neighbourhood of Rouyn‑Noranda. It can be hard if not impossible to reach him at home on a cell phone. The only option is to contact him through an Internet application, even though he lives just 45 minutes from downtown Rouyn‑Noranda. Many other Abitibi-Témiscamingue residents face the same situation: they can only be reached using technologies other than cell phones. With the advent of telework, being unable to get a clear cell phone signal means that residents living in rural neighbourhoods far from large towns or cities become second-class citizens, unable to reap the benefits of this new work arrangement.

There is also, and perhaps most importantly, the issue of safety. Accidents happen. For example, on the road to Duparquet, at “9 Milles”, as it is known in the area, cell coverage is spotty. Inevitably, that increases the risk in the event of an accident. Crucial life-saving minutes are lost simply because there is insufficient cell coverage on our main roads. This is just one example of the many cell coverage dead zones on our main roads. They can stretch for 15 to 20 kilometres and, in some places, even further. La Vérendrye park, which I visit every week, presents this same challenge.

Regarding the conditions for issuing spectrum licenses, Bill S‑242 says that the promoter must undertake to “deploy the spectrum to provide service to at least 50% of the population.” That is not enough. If a promoter is only required to connect a minimum of 50% of the population, as the bill states, they will favour the most profitable areas of the spectrum. This will leave a large number of citizens without cell coverage, creating second-class citizens, as was the case with Internet coverage until recently. Let us just say that, in the context of the cellular network, those who make the company money were already connected.

The bill has to be able to offer the service to those who do not yet have it. What we are seeing is that it is the same companies and the same geographic realities as for the Internet. Before talking about competition, we need to talk about connecting more people in rural areas, in other words accessibility. It is a matter of equality of opportunity for rural and remote communities that are currently not well served.

People who opt for a rural lifestyle are being penalized right now. We are undermining land use, a core value. Our villages, our rural and remote communities deserve better. We must use legislative and financial incentives to encourage the full use of the spectrum allocated for rural and remote regions. Getting connectivity to keep pace with supply and demand, and the realities of competition, is rather slow and has reached a limit in the rural and remote regions. It is simple: companies do not serve places where it is not profitable.

We also need to limit the reassignment of a spectrum licence, because transferring licences from company to company only adds to the connectivity delays. This also creates uncertainty and this uncertainty can have a rather dramatic impact on price increases.

The government needs to fund the deployment of infrastructure to connect residents in unserved areas. Telecommunications companies must be required by law to serve as many residents as possible and share infrastructure more effectively to avoid building too much infrastructure.

Forcing telecommunications companies to serve as many residents as possible and share infrastructure more effectively means that the majority of people will be connected, but there will always be residents in areas where there is no access, and the government will have to act for the benefit of these people.

That is why adequate funding is needed to connect these Quebeckers and Canadians as quickly as possible. We need only look at the Quebec government's operation high speed. Since the money was sent to Quebec City, the plan was put in place quickly. Since 2021, the trucks of the employees installing the network have been everywhere, and the network is being rolled out at lightning speed. This is particularly true in Abitibi—Témiscamingue, where Videotron works.

By sending the money now to Quebec City, which is already prepared to act on this issue, cell coverage can be improved more quickly. I especially commend Quebec City for its leadership. This crucial and critical infrastructure will be built quickly in sparsely populated areas if we can count on the government.

The fact is that any debate on Internet and cellphone coverage always comes down to this: Do we want to occupy more of our land or do we want to concentrate people in and around big cities and major arteries? That is implicit in this debate. Choosing to live in the regions, choosing to live in rural areas, means using our lands and bringing them to life. Competition exists in our big cities, and to a certain extent in our towns, but the issue is not whether there is competition; the issue is access to services. To develop competition, we must have at least one player already on the ground. It is a matter of equal opportunity for rural communities, which are often underserved.

The issue of duration is relevant in itself and is raised in Bill S-242. Should we impose a deadline or not, and what deadline would be acceptable? Take, for example, the deployment of high-speed Internet in Quebec, launched in 2021. Even today, two years later, most of the connections are fast because the operation was subsidized. It is important to understand that this deployment will not happen overnight. This timeframe calls for consultation with the community to ensure that this time requirement can be met. It is one thing to demand this of a major player in the industry. It is quite another to demand it of a new or smaller player in the field.

The issues of Internet access, cell service in rural areas and cell network convergence deserve to be studied in greater depth. Can the government create a program to build cell towers in regions where there is no service?

That is why I decided to move a motion a few minutes ago at the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology. My motion addresses these issues and will enable us to study them with various industry players. It will also allow for in-depth consideration of the accessibility and affordability of wired and wireless products. The committee could seek input from the CRTC, the Competition Bureau, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry or the Minister of Rural Economic Development, all of which could be of interest here. That will give us the data and recommendations we need to ensure that we respond appropriately to consumers' concerns and needs.

People are using wired services less and less, and wireless communications are taking over, so we have to study this issue in depth. I truly believe that a committee study is the best way to develop a regulatory framework that will meet the needs of Quebeckers from Gaspé to Rouyn-Noranda.

The Bloc Québécois will vote against this legislation. We ask that the House engage in a much deeper process of reflection, similar to the one followed for high speed Internet. This issue has been a key commitment for me, and the reason I entered politics in 2019. If I may use a redundant expression, it was the priority priority of my election campaign.

Back then, in the kind of rural area where I live, it became clear that existing services could not provide Internet access. The programs in place planned to take five years to install 50 kilometres of fibre optic cable, during which time no one would be able to connect to the Internet. It was a major problem. Seven, eight, even ten types of programs were being operated by different service providers to provide Internet access in certain regions, but none of them were compatible. We complained loudly to the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology.

COVID‑19 also sped up the process, as people found themselves teleworking or studying from home. I think that the federal government has realized its program's shortcomings because we pressed the matter. At the same time, following the example of Abitibi-Ouest, the Quebec government created operation high speed. They mapped the area, figured out the needs and awarded the grants. I commend their leadership, and I hope the same will happen with the cellular network very soon.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2023 / 5:45 p.m.
See context


Arielle Kayabaga Liberal London West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House as our parliamentary work resumes to represent the people of London West. Today I am pleased to speak to the important role that spectrum plays in the Canadian economy and in the daily lives of Canadians.

I am pleased to see Bill S-242 draw attention to this important issue, and I look forward to studying this matter. Spectrum is a finite public resource and important enabler of economic activity, and Bill S-242 seeks to ensure that unused spectrum is being put to work. I think we can all agree on this goal.

As we conduct our study of this bill, it is very important that we reflect on the way it takes spectrum into account. Spectrum is increasingly having to support a wide range of economic and social activities, including mobile connectivity. Spectrum supports public safety networks, research, industrial applications, national defence and satellite services. The rules on spectrum also have to ensure that Canadian institutions and businesses can take advantage of smart technologies that can allow businesses to be more efficient, productive and innovative.

By supporting the use of automated, robotic and remote operations in industries such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing, spectrum can support business growth and economic development in remote rural regions and even in southwestern Ontario.

The government recognizes this and is supporting innovation through its spectrum licensing processes. For example, our recently announced non-competitive licensing framework will support the adoption of innovative technologies that our economy's productivity will ultimately depend on. My hope is that Bill S-242 can accommodate important spectrum measures such as these.

Bill S-242 has an important goal to put spectrum to work and get Canadians connected. Every Canadian, regardless of where they live or work, deserves access to reliable and affordable high-speed Internet. We saw the importance of this during the pandemic, when everybody had to work from home and figure out ways to continue to be productive. Furthermore, further study of this bill should be considered, including its interaction with existing and planned policies, and focus on ensuring that it would accelerate the objectives of universal broadband access and efficient spectrum use.

The Government of Canada has already committed to connecting 98% of Canadians to high-speed Internet by 2026 and 100% of Canadians by 2030. This is ambitious. We have made available over $7.6 billion to expand access to high-speed Internet in underserved areas. Through our universal broadband fund, we have already helped connect over 200,000 underserved homes to high-speed Internet. With an additional 80,000 homes getting connected by the end of this year, that is a total of 750,000 homes to come.

The main proposal in Bill S‑242 is to implement an overall target of 50% deployment in each spectrum band. Further study should examine how that objective will help us address this gap to achieve universal broadband coverage.

Most of these sectors are on track to be connected soon through our funding programs and 5G spectrum rules, which already require wireless services to be deployed to more than 97% of the population. At the same time, this bill must still allow for innovative approaches that improve access to spectrum in rural areas, for diversity of use. For example, the non-competitive licensing framework I mentioned earlier takes an innovative approach to spectrum licensing. It enables access to shared 5G spectrum for a wider range of users and utilities than ever before, and allows small providers and non-traditional licensees to cover small specific-licence areas that are suitable for business cases. This could be a private network within a plant or a mine, coverage to support aquaculture, precision agriculture, or wireless broadband services for consumers. This framework will provide small Internet service providers, innovative industries, remote rural communities and indigenous peoples with quick and easy spectrum access.

However, it is licensed spectrum; it is a public resource, and it needs to be used. That is why we are already putting strong “use it or lose it” policies in place as part of our licensing policies in our spectrum auctions. As we release more spectrum, we continue to increase our deployment requirements using more ambitious targets, as well as smaller licence areas to ensure that coverage is targeted to rural communities. Our upcoming 5G spectrum auction later this year will feature our most ambitious deployment requirements to date, which will require operators to increase their coverage over time and expand into rural communities to meet our targets.

We are also strengthening older deployment requirements and pursuing policies that will provide new users with access to unused spectrum. This will also be in areas where deployment conditions have been met. As these processes come online, we will see even further progress in closing the connectivity gap across the country.

Finally, I believe that the potential impact of this bill on investment and implementation is worth studying. Bill S‑242's deployment objectives will be implemented as quickly as the bids that could face significant uncertainty about exactly what is being sold during the next 5G auction.

We also have to look at the potential impact of the bill on planned and existing investments, the 5G spectrum, and whether the rules for spectrum holders have now been changed. As the bill is drafted, operators will have to significantly modify their multi-year investment plan to comply with all the new deployment conditions. This could cause major upheaval in the sector. I am sure that is not the intent of the bill. The study can be more thorough and must look at the best way to maintain and improve existing investments in the network.

This is an important bill, and it is an important topic. I look forward to hearing the discussions of my colleagues and how we can continue to make sure that every home in Canada is connected and deployment is supported. The government has already started to connect families, and 750,000 families will be connected through our connectivity plan.

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2023 / 5:45 p.m.
See context


Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging the leadership of my colleague from the Bay of Quinte on the issue of affordability of telecommunications services. We have seen him take strong action a number of times in the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology, and I want to point that out.

In this context, does he acknowledge that Bill S‑242 would still cause some market disruption? Reducing time limits could result in licences being auctioned off, which could increase rates, and that increase could be passed on to consumers.

This disruption to the industry may not be desirable, especially in rural and remote areas in a riding like mine. Therefore, will the member support the motion I moved at the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology, which he witnessed earlier, so that we can do an in-depth study on the elements related to the convergence and the modernization of the act?

How can we ensure that we create programs that are much better suited to building cell towers, for example, in remote rural areas?

Radiocommunication ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2023 / 5:30 p.m.
See context


Ryan Williams Conservative Bay of Quinte, ON

moved that Bill S-242, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, access to high-speed Internet on our phones, tablets or computers has become not just a want but a need and a necessity to participate in today's economy, to go to school, to be educated, to communicate or, even as we saw this summer, for public safety.

The Internet, which was a luxury when I was a kid, has now transformed into a public utility. Nary a function in today's society can be completed without it, yet 40% of rural Canada is not connected to high-speed Internet. Almost 60% of our first nations communities are not connected to high-speed Internet. Especially troublesome is that those in rural areas who are connected find it inadequate and expensive.

In a 2021 poll conducted by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, 68% of people said that the organization they communicate most with online is their bank. A strong Internet connection may also be a factor in determining someone's health care, as 28% of Canadians consulted a doctor virtually in 2021. As this nation faces a shortage of doctors and health care practitioners, that number is only going higher.

There are also simpler conveniences that come with reliable Internet, such as food and grocery delivery, car sharing, social media and online booking portals. Farmers these days now have equipment with software that can only be updated online using the Internet.

Rural Canadians suffer most of all as the world goes more digital and they are stuck in the stone age. Why does this matter? Well, it matters because Canada is rural. Of the 3,700 municipalities in Canada, only 94 are urban or have over 100,000 in population. That means 97% of Canadian municipalities are rural.

Even in my home riding of Bay of Quinte, only a three-hour drive southwest of Ottawa, with Belleville, Prince Edward County and Quinte West, when travelling east to west and north to south, we often lose cell coverage. A lot of my residents do not have reliable high-speed Internet, and we are a three-hour drive from over 10 million people in a part of this country that should be considered urban and have reliable and cheap high-speed Internet.

The answer to those problems is to have more competition with more companies competing, and especially to have more Canadian companies competing and filling in the gaps when it comes to technology and spectrum. We must get more rural Canadians connected to the Internet and get more cellphone towers in Canada. The government's role is to ensure that the rules and regulations in place benefit rural Canada as much as they do urban Canada.

This bill is for rural Canada to ensure that when Canada gives a public utility resource like spectrum or spectrum licensing to a company, the company uses the spectrum to connect rural parts of this country and its over seven million people to high-speed Internet. The bill is entitled “use it or lose it”, and it will mean that if a telco buys spectrum intended to service a geographic region in Canada and within three years does not service 50% of that geographic area, the minister has legislative options to ensure that another company will.

I would like to personally thank Senator Patterson from the great Nunavut and his incredible staff, who have already passed this bill and shepherded it through the Senate. When discussing this bill, the senator revealed that this is his last year in the Senate. He actually turned 75 on almost the last day of the year that he can serve as a senator. He told me that if his generation is going to be remembered for anything, it will be the last one that remembers the world before the Internet. Can members imagine that? With this bill, Senator Patterson will be remembered for protecting this public utility for all of rural Canada.

The senator talked to me about the importance of this bill in the north, in the Northwest Territories, in Nunavut and in the Yukon. When it comes to the Internet, we are either five years ahead or five years behind. In rural Canada, we are certainly five years behind.

In the north, Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane, during a recent wildfire when phone and Internet lines were out, stressed that they had been asking for upgrades for decades, with no response. She said, “It angered me that we have been pleading and begging to have the same infrastructure that people in the south take for granted. Not extra, just basic infrastructure.”

P.E.I. resident Julie Lauren pays $161 per month for her home Internet service. Just for context, that is more than eight times what Australians pay. She lives in Bonshaw, P.E.I., a rural community just 30 minutes outside of Charlottetown. To have high-speed Internet at home, Lauren says that the only company she found that provides reliable service in her area is Starlink, a United States-based satellite Internet provider operated by the American company SpaceX. Most Canadians either cannot afford Internet or cannot get it because it has not rolled out yet.

Worse, how many times in the past have telcos abused the Internet spectrum, a public utility, as their own real estate and asset and profited from it? There are many examples of this very thing having happened. In 2008, after a competitive auction that lasted 331 rounds, Quebecor Media and Videotron Ltd. shelled out $96.4 million for the exclusive rights to a block of wireless airwaves in Toronto, outside of its own market of Quebec. However, the telco never built a wireless network in Canada's most populous city, and in June 2017 sold the unused licences to Rogers Communications for $184.2 million, netting an $87.8-million profit. A month later, Videotron earned an even larger windfall of $243.1 million by selling a handful of spectrum licences to western Canadian telecom company Shaw Communications Inc. In 2013, after scrapping its on again, off again plans to launch wireless services, Shaw sold 18 licences to Rogers for $350 million, nearly twice the $189.5 million it bought them for in 2008.

The message could not be clearer. Spectrum is a public utility, a public good. The government owns it and leases it to companies with the idea that they will use it. Spectrum should not be flipped like a piece of real estate; it should be developed. It should be given to companies to develop, especially in rural Canada so it can get the high-speed Internet it needs.

Although the government says it can do just that by law, there has been very little done about it. This bill would give the minister powers to do something about it. The minister's new powers would include repealing licences that do not meet the geographic deployment conditions. Right now they are met only by population. A lot of the time what will happen to spectrum licences if the licence holder fulfills the population conditions, which in tiers two to four include an urban component, so, for example, if a licensee fulfills the Toronto component but not the northern King region or Vaughan component, is that it can still hold on to that licence even though those rural users do not have Internet. This would make sure it is geographic, that 50% of the geographic area must be met, not just the urban area. It would include consent to an agreement to transfer the licence to a new provider if the original owner has partially deployed service.

Therefore, there would be a provision to use it or share it, so it would not be as cruel for those who are actively trying to deploy spectrum. It would give the minister the power to make a decision to work with that provider as long as it is working with the ministry and the minister. It would allow a spectrum licence to be shared among two or more companies to deliver the service through an assigned geographic area, which is not just use it or lose it but, if need be, use it or share it, which I think is very innovative.

These amendments came from the Senate. I would like to congratulate the senators on the many important amendments to the bill. There were many great improvements to its original form. One of the amendments was to ensure that those buying tier one to tier four licences would not be able to meet deployment conditions by simply deploying to the urban areas with those large geographic tiers, but would also be required to provide service to smaller rural and remote areas nestled within, in order to meet the obligations under this legislation. We are trying to work with those providers.

It also laid the foundation for other amendments focusing on the use-it-or-share-it regime, which would allow the minister to make the decision to share parts of the spectrum with companies that could fulfill the obligations of the spectrum rollout. In addition, it would provide ministerial flexibility to either outright revoke the licence or reallocate tier five areas, which are rural, within the licence, to other providers who are already able and ready to service the underserviced areas. A lot of those were independent service providers, like a company called Storm, which is actively working on that.

The amendments also include a provision that would clarify the intent to ensure that licence holders cannot sell the licence up to and including three years minus a day, in an effort to avoid penalties for not complying with licence conditions. We would be giving the minister the power also to ensure that companies, on the 299th day prior to the 300 days the government has to revoke this, are complying. We would be giving the power to the minister, which is very important.

Another amendment would require the minister to start a competitive bidding process within 60 days not only of the revocation of a spectrum licence but also where the licence holder has voluntarily surrendered the licence as a result of not being able to meet its licensing obligations.

A further amendment addressed the concerns over the ability of smaller proponents, small companies, to raise the required capital to participate in the competitive bidding process, giving the minister the flexibility to use competitive bidding or other reallocation processes such as a first-come, first-served model when a licence is revoked or surrendered. Again, we have many small businesses that want to participate in this licence process. Let us give the minister the power to select those smaller companies, especially when it comes to rural Canada and the north.

Not all companies are bad, and spectrum auctioning is a necessary process where there is much demand and little supply like in urban Canada, but in rural Canada there is less supply, and this bill is awfully needed to fix that. Therefore, this bill would be a small start in the spectrum policy review in Canada, especially in rural Canada.

Senator Patterson noticed the importance of this bill in raising awareness of the major problem of connectivity including in indigenous communities, and the impact this plays on Canada's reconciliation process, especially as it pertains to enhancing the language and culture of those in remote communities. The senator also made many comments close to my heart on how the government should develop incentives and policies that foster competition and facilitate the entry of Canadian companies into the competitive market.

Canadians have had bad or worse connectivity in rural and remote areas in Canada. The really bad news is that most of Canada is rural and that 40% of rural Canadians do not even have access to high-speed Internet. That number is almost 60% for our first nations peoples. This is at a time when Canadians need fast, reliable Internet and cellphone coverage for their economic well-being, for their kids' education and perhaps, most important, for their safety.

This bill would ensure that those companies that win spectrum auctions actually use the spectrum they are buying in rural areas of Canada that need it. This is, with no small effect, to work on ensuring that the Canadian government and its minister of industry have a role to play in ensuring that the spectrum licences in this public utility purchased by companies are being put towards providing good, fast, reliable Internet for Canadians, or that a use-it-or-lose-it provision would ensure that, at the very least, the asset owned by the Canadian public is not just speculative for companies trying to earn another buck.

I want to thank Senator Patterson of Nunavut for putting forward this very important bill, a very timely one for when he retires. It is my hope that we in this place can support the work he has done in the Senate and this great first step to address rural connectivity in Canada.

Radiocommunication ActRoutine Proceedings

May 11th, 2023 / 10 a.m.
See context


Ryan Williams Conservative Bay of Quinte, ON

moved that Bill S-242, An Act to amend the Radiocommunication Act, be read the first time.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank Senator Patterson for all his hard work in getting this bill passed through the other place, the Senate. I am looking forward to getting it passed through this chamber.

Canadians currently pay the highest cellphone rates in the world and some of the highest Internet rates. As it currently stands, with spectrum auctions, companies pay by spectrum for a “20 years with no conditions” policy. They actually have to use that spectrum to provide service. Many companies buy the spectrum with no current plans or intentions of using it. We have seen this across Canada multiple times, where a spectrum is held for real estate purposes and sold for millions of dollars.

Canadians, especially in rural and remote areas, suffer from poor or non-existent cellphone services because of spectrum speculation. The bill would correct this by introducing a “use it or lose it” provision to all wireless sold at auction. It would require the licence holder to provide service to at least 50% of the geographic area covered by the licence within three years of that licence being issued or lose the licence.

This is a great bill, and I am happy to sponsor it. I want to thank the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa for seconding it.

(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)