NDP joins calls for Liberals to overturn CRTC internet price decision

·3 min read

TORONTO — The federal New Democratic Party is backing calls from independent telecom companies for the government to overrule a recent decision on wholesale internet rates by Canada's telecommunications regulator.

NDP telecom critic Brian Masse said Tuesday that consumers will pay the cost of last week's CRTC decision in which it reversed its own 2019 decision that would have substantially lowered wholesale internet prices that large telecom companies charge smaller firms to rent space on their networks.

Some independent providers have already said they will have to taper expansion plans or raise consumer prices in response to the decision.

New Democrats want the Trudeau government to restore the 2019 wholesale price decision, which never went into effect, and to compensate the smaller internet carriers, Masse said Tuesday in a virtual media briefing.

The party also wants a return to having the CRTC regulate what consumers and businesses pay for essential services such as the internet, Masse said.

"This product that we have is so essential for our schools, our education, social inclusion, involvement in our communities and obviously the economy," Masse said.

Unlike some critics of the CRTC's apparent reversal, Masse pointed to the federal cabinet as the cause of the confusion rather than to the regulator itself, which interprets broad government policies to form detailed rules.

"And it's unfortunate because it is undermining the credibility of the CRTC in many respects," Masse said.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne was not available for comment Tuesday on the New Democrat statement.

Conservative telecom critic Pierre Poilievre asked during question period Monday whether it is time to "change this uncompetitive oligopoly and provide more competition and choice to consumers."

Champagne said Monday the government has been "relentless" in promoting competition to improve the quality, coverage and affordability of telecom services in Canada.

Independent internet provider TekSavvy Solutions Inc. called on May 28 for cabinet to overrule the CRTC and order the Competition Bureau to look into Canada's phone and cable companies.

The Competition Bureau, another independent agency within Champagne's department, said it doesn't disclose whether it's conducting investigations but said it has received a request from TekSavvy.

A number of independent internet companies have also called for CRTC chairman Ian Scott to resign or remove himself from proceedings where he may have a conflict of interest.

The CRTC said Tuesday that it would not be commenting.

The CRTC's latest decision, issued Thursday, found a number of errors in how it reached the 2019 conclusion, in part because it had to estimate some costs that weren't provided by some of the large companies.

In light of these errors, the CRTC said it would disregard the 2019 decision and make most of the interim prices set in 2016 final — essentially locking in higher internet rates rather than lowering them.

Critics of the CRTC's about-face, including members of the Competitive Network Operators of Canada, which represents more than 30 wholesale customers of the bigger carriers, have said the decision means they will raise prices for their customers, change services or go out of business.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:BCE, TSX:T)

David Paddon, The Canadian Press

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