By Moira Warburton
TORONTO (Reuters) -Canada's telecoms regulator announced Thursday it would not significantly lower the rates that small companies must pay to access the high-speed broadband networks of larger rivals, ending years of legal battles and a bid to increase competition.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) granted smaller companies access to the networks in 2016 with interim rates that they had to pay larger companies.
The setup was intended to increase competition in Canada, which has among the highest internet and cellphone bills in the world, according to government studies.
Canada's telecoms industry is dominated by Telus, Rogers and BCE, which have 89.2% of subscribers and 90.7% of revenue, according to government figures.
In 2019, the agency agreed to lower rates but the move never went into effect due to legal challenges from the larger companies. Thursday's ruling means the original 2016 rates remain in effect, with some small adjustments.
"The CRTC, run by a former Telus VP, just gave a giant middle finger to consumers, indie ISPs (internet service providers) and competition, and gave carte blanche to Bell, Rogers et al to raise our internet rates as much as they damn well want, ad infinitum," Peter Nowak, a vice president at TekSavvy Solutions Inc, said on Twitter.
Bell, as BCE is known, said it was pleased with the "positive decision" from the CRTC.
Telus and Rogers were not immediately available for comment.
Francois-Philippe Champagne, federal minister for innovation, science and economic development, said the government "will be reviewing the decision and its implications to ensure they align with our policy priorities of affordability, competition and innovation in the sector."
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker)