Bell denied suspension of CRTC decision allowing access to its fiber network

Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press

Posted on Monday, February 12, 2024 1:27 PM EST

Last updated Monday February 12, 2024 1:27 pm EST

The Federal Court of Appeal rejected BCE Inc.’s request to stay a regulatory decision that will allow independent companies to sell Internet services to their customers over Bell’s fiber network in Ontario and Quebec.

The court’s decision was issued Friday, a day after Bell Canada announced it was cutting 4,800 jobs and could further cut network spending based in part on direction from the CRTC.

It also came just before the next phase of the federal telecommunications regulator’s study on the same issue. The CRTC began a five-day hearing on Monday as part of its review of Internet competition in Canada.

The CRTC announced last November that it would temporarily require large telephone companies, namely Bell and Telus Corp., to provide their competitors with access to their fiber-to-the-home networks in Canada’s two largest provinces within six months. . (The rule does not apply to Canada’s other major carrier, Rogers Communications Inc., which uses a cable network.)

But Bell asked the court for permission to appeal the CRTC’s temporary ruling and a stay of that decision pending the outcome of the court process, which would effectively delay independent companies from gaining access to Bell’s network to sell their Internet services in May.

The court will hear the appeal, but rejected the company’s request to suspend the decision.

“I believe you have not established that you will suffer irreparable harm if the stay is not granted,” Judge Mary Gleason wrote.

Bell did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. The company is also awaiting a decision from the federal cabinet, which it has asked to review the regulator’s action.

The CRTC’s decision last November was aimed at spurring competition for internet services, noting at the time that its review could make that direction permanent and apply it to other provinces.

Their hearing this week, involving 22 groups, will focus on three main issues, CRTC Chairwoman Vicky Eatrides said in her opening remarks. These include how well internet service markets are currently working for Canadians, what changes are needed to ensure a more competitive future, and how the CRTC can provide clarity so companies “can invest and bring more services to market.” innovative and high quality.

“In recent years, we have seen less and less competition among Internet providers,” Eatrides said.

“Many Internet providers (independent providers) have been bought by large companies and those that remain have fewer subscribers than before. We also know that telecommunications networks are expensive to build, maintain and operate, so unless there are Faced with the prospect of profitability, investors will put their money elsewhere.”

Bell has accused the CRTC of “predetermined” outcomes related to its review, noting that the commission’s direction so far reduces its incentive to continue building its fiber network.

But the Competition Bureau argued Monday during its appearance at the CRTC hearing that effective wholesale access to fiber can foster greater competition for Internet services.

The competition regulator recommended the CRTC update its wholesale access framework to provide independent operators “access to an increasingly important network while also serving to reduce asymmetry between existing facility-based competitors that may distort competition.”

“Competition between Internet providers is not just about price and quality of service in the short term, but also about building and improving Internet networks in the long term,” said Competition Bureau Deputy Commissioner Krista McWhinnie.

John Lawford, chief executive of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, urged the regulator not to succumb to “threats of disinvestment” by large hauliers.

“The commission is mandated to achieve telecommunications policy objectives, not to return monopoly rent to incumbents,” Lawford said.

“Incumbents are bullying the commission into using their overheated definition of ‘investment’ as a trump card that always wins. They must be told ‘no.'”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2024.

Companies in this story: (TSX:BCE,TSX:T, TSX:RCI.B)

CP24 is owned by Bell Media, which is a division of BCE Inc.

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