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Vicky Eatrides, new Chairperson and CEO of the CRTC, in the regulator's offices in Gatineau, Quebec on Jan. 19.Blair Gable/Blair Gable Photography

Vicky Eatrides, the new new chair of Canada’s broadcast and telecommunications regulator, wants to make it clear that lowering cellphone and internet bills is a top priority for her.

“What I really want is for Canadians to be able to answer the question ‘What has the CRTC done for me?’ and have that be something meaningful,” Ms. Eatrides said in an interview two weeks into her five-year term.

She is starting her role at the regulator amid the intense scrutiny of Canada’s telecommunications sector.

The legal proceedings of Rogers Communications Inc.’s takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. are ongoing, attracting unprecedented attention to the inner workings of the telecom industry and the future of cellular service competition in Canada.

Meanwhile, two Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission policies, concerning industry rates for broadband and wireless networks, finalized during the previous chair’s term, are still being debated among industry players.

And the CRTC is facing an expanding mandate, now making decisions about subsidizing newsmakers, regulating streaming platforms and overseeing social media content as part of two proposed bills – C-11 and C-18.

Unfortunately, Ms. Eatrides is inheriting a commission that is widely seen as slow to make decisions.

Ottawa has expressed concerns about these issues. Last May, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) released a draft policy directive for the CRTC, directing the commission to create a more effective regulatory framework, improve consumer rights, advance universal access and improve the timeliness of regulation.

A final draft is expected in early 2023, but Ms. Eatrides says the CRTC is already working with the directives in mind.

She says she has a plan to lower cellphone and internet costs – though she would not reveal specifics. She also has ideas about how to speed up the commission’s decision-making process: better prioritization and narrowing the scope of the proceeding when possible.

Another high-priority task is to launch a review of the wholesale internet rate framework.

In a divisive 2021 wholesale broadband ruling under former chair Ian Scott, the CRTC reversed a prior decision that reduced the fees the big telecoms would be able to charge smaller internet service providers for access to their broadband networks. Independent service providers have maintained that the ruling has resulted in a series of acquisitions by large incumbents that have reduced competition in Canada.

In his last public speaking engagement as CRTC chair last fall, Mr. Scott acknowledged that the marketplace has evolved since the policy was developed in a way that wasn’t fully anticipated. Ms. Eatrides agrees.

“The current framework is not having the desired effect. We need to take a closer look,” she said. “Stay tuned for a better model as we work through that.”

She will also be watching closely as the telecom sector begins the implementation of another CRTC policy direction: the conditions for mobile virtual network operators to lease space on incumbents’ networks while building out their own infrastructure.

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Vicky Eatrides.Blair Gable/Blair Gable Photography

“I see competition as being a key driver of pricing, choice and innovation. We will continue to move the needle on that, actively,” she said. “But we also have to keep a balance by making sure that we have investments in innovation and resilient networks.”

She has already been met with optimism from consumer advocates, who hope her approach to competition will reflect the view taken by the Competition Bureau, where she spent 17 years in civil and criminal enforcement before moving to ISED.

The Competition Bureau is currently in the throes of its mission to block Rogers’ takeover of Shaw.

Ms. Eatrides said it was “too early” to comment on the proceedings but acknowledged an application filed Thursday asking the CRTC to investigate whether certain business agreements struck as part of the takeover are in violation of the Telecommunications Act.

In the meantime, she will begin meeting with stakeholders next month to determine her next steps.

“There’s a lot on the go,” she said. “We can move mountains, but not all at once.”

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