The 2014 federal budget, introduced on February 11, 2014, included several items of interest to the telecommunications industry, including plans for revisions to the regulatory framework for wireless services and a commitment of federal funding to extend and enhance the access to high-speed broadband networks in rural and Northern communities.

As part of its “consumers first” strategy, the government has proposed, in its Economic Action Plan 2014, a number of measures intended to strengthen competition in the telecommunications market.  Notably, the new budget builds on an earlier announcement of plans to amend the Telecommunications Act to cap wholesale domestic wireless roaming rates, at least until such time as the CRTC, which is currently examining the issue, makes a decision respecting such roaming rates.

The budget also disclosed the government’s intention to beef up the enforcement tools available to the regulators of the wireless sector.  It was announced that amendments will be proposed to both the Telecommunications Actand the Radiocommunication Act, which will provide the CRTC and Industry Canada, respectively, with the power to impose “administrative monetary penalties” on companies that violate regulatory requirements, such as adherence to the newly in force Wireless Code, and rules requiring deployment of spectrum resources, extension of service to rural areas and tower sharing with other carriers.  Administrative monetary penalties are already available to the CRTC with respect to telemarketing violations, and will soon be available for violations of Canada’s new anti-spam law.

The government also announced plans to clarify prohibitions against violating spectrum auction rules, as well as prohibitions against the manufacture, sale or use of jamming devices.  Other planned amendments would streamline the certification process for telecommunications equipment.

Further planned amendments to the Telecommunications Act would provide the CRTC with the authority to directly impose conditions of operation on non-carriers (such as resellers).  Currently, the Commission imposes such obligations indirectly, by requiring regulated carriers to include specified terms in their agreements with non-facilities based telecommunications providers.

None of the proposed amendments have yet been introduced into Parliament.  Based on recent government practice, such amendments might well be included in an omnibus budget implementation bill.

In addition to proposed changes to the regulatory framework for wireless services, the budget announcement also indicated that the government will provide $305 million over 5 years to extend and enhance broadband service to rural and Northern communities, to a target speed of 5 Megabits per second.  The funding could mean enhanced service for up to 280,000 Canadian households.  Further details about the new funding program are to be released in the coming months.