Feds proposing new internet, phone rules to the CRTC

telecom

Smaller internet service providers (ISPs) are cautiously optimistic about the new telecom policy directives unveiled by the federal government Thursday that are aimed at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Brad Fisher, chief revenue officer at an independent telecom company Distributel, says he is "disappointed" in Ottawa's decision not to overturn a controversial CRTC ruling made last year that reversed the regulatory agency's own 2019 decision to reduce the fees big telecom providers charge smaller internet service providers for access to their broadband networks.

"It's a missed opportunity to put money back in the pockets of Canadians," he said.

After assessing petitions from smaller ISPs on the issue, Ottawa says it concluded that the 2019 rates included a series of errors and that it would be "irresponsible" to implement them. The government says the rates implemented in 2016 will remain in place.

Fisher adds that the decision will make the market a difficult one for smaller ISPs to operate in, although the government has provided a "clear set" of directives that are "pro-competition longer term."

Meanwhile, telecom researcher Ben Klass says that the measures don't do enough to support competition.

"This direction appears primarily to be an effort by the government to deflect attention from its refusal to address the CRTC's failure to support competition through fair rate regulation for internet providers," he said.

Although the government stopped short of implementing the CRTC's 2019 proposed rates, the directives also require the CRTC to "take action to have more timely and improved wholesale rates available."

The government is also directing the CRTC to improve its hybrid mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) model and says it is prepared to move to a full MVNO model to support competition if necessary.

MVNOs are wireless providers that buy cell phone network service from the big carriers at a wholesale rate and then sell access to customers at a more affordable rate.

Ottawa is also calling on the CRTC to address what it calls unacceptable sales practices and lay out new measures to improve clarity around service pricing and the ability for customers to cancel or change services.

It also wants to see service providers implement mandatory broadband testing so Canadians will understand what they're paying for.

Ottawa's telecom policy proposal lands as concerns increase about Rogers Communications Inc.'s $26 billion acquisition of Shaw Communications Inc.