Access to fiber optic networks | The CRTC rejects a request from Bell

The CRTC has rejected a request from Bell Canada and some independent internet providers for an expedited decision that would prevent large operators from using their rivals’ fiber optic networks to offer their services to their customers.

The regulator said the application, filed in March, did not provide sufficient evidence of “irreparable harm”.

The secretary general of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Marc Morin, delivered the response in a letter addressed Friday to the coalition, which also includes TekSavvy, Eastlink, Cogeco Communications and the Competitive Network Operators of Canada ( ORCC).

The companies had argued that giving Canada’s three big internet operators, including Bell itself, access to each other’s fiber optic networks would threaten the viability of independent internet service providers.

However, according to Mr. Morin, the companies have not offered sufficient evidence to support these statements.

Last November, the CRTC issued an interim ruling requiring Bell’s parent company, BCE, and Telus to provide competitors with access to their fiber optic networks in Ontario and Quebec within six months. This means that independent telecommunications could pay to use these networks to provide fiber optic service to their customers.

The move was intended to boost competition for internet services in Canada’s two largest provinces, where, according to the CRTC, competition in internet services has suffered the most in recent years.

The rules came into force on Tuesday, but they only apply temporarily as the regulator is in the midst of a broader review of competition inside that market.

He explained that his consultations, which included a five-day hearing in February, could potentially make these temporary rules permanent and applicable to other provinces within a national framework.

Mr. Morin indicated that the regulator expects to make a final decision on wholesale access to fiber by the end of the summer.

A disincentive for Bell

Bell vehemently opposed the CRTC’s interim decision, seeking to have it overturned since it was issued.

The company has previously accused the CRTC of “predetermined” outcomes related to its review of the internet, saying the board’s current direction diminishes Bell’s incentive to continue developing its fiber optic network.

The company responded to the interim decision by cutting its network spending plans by $1.1 billion by 2025. It also partially blamed the regulator’s initial decision when it announced it would cut 9% of its effective earlier this year.

In February, the Federal Court of Appeal rejected Bell’s request to stay the interim ruling, but said it would hear the company’s appeal.

Bell is also awaiting a decision from the federal cabinet, which has asked to review the regulator’s decision.

At the CRTC hearing three months ago, Bell executives proposed several conditions, should the CRTC expand the wholesale internet regime, to help mitigate the potential negative effects of such a measure.

That involved restricting the eligibility of national wireless carriers – Bell, Rogers Communications and Telus – to sell internet over fiber optic networks built by their rivals.

Bell representatives argued that without these restrictions, big players would increasingly rely on others’ existing networks rather than investing to expand their own. Although in theory it would benefit from such an arrangement, the company joined with smaller players in opposing it.

“Allowing incumbent operators to resell on their respective networks will permanently distort the Canadian internet market in favor of large operators and will be to the detriment of small internet providers,” Bell spokesperson Jacqueline Michelis said on Tuesday.

“We hope that the CRTC’s final decision this summer will encourage Bell to continue investing in network expansion that will connect more Canadians to high-speed fiber optic internet, wherever they live. »

Against the CRTC’s objective

Noting divergent views on this issue, Mr. Morin declined to comment on the question of eligibility for wholesale access to facilities in isolation. He said in his letter last week that it would be “inappropriate” to do so when this point is linked to other issues in ongoing consultations.

ORCC Chairman and Chairman Paul Andersen said the CRTC’s response flies in the face of its stated intent for its review, which “was to ensure that independent internet service providers can compete with large carriers.”

“By refusing this request and allowing large operators to resell on their respective networks and consolidate their wireless services, Canadians will actually see less competition for high-speed internet services,” he argued.

Some independent internet companies have emphasized the importance of wholesale access to their operations.

TekSavvy Vice President of Regulatory and Carrier Affairs Andy Kaplan-Myrth previously called the CRTC hearing on the matter “the most important regulatory proceeding TekSavvy has ever seen.”

He told commissioners earlier this year that TekSavvy had lost more than 100,000 subscribers since its 2019 peak amid a regulatory environment unfavorable to wholesalers.


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