Reg­u­la­tor raises ques­tions on fu­ture In­ter­net ser­vices as ‘dark cloud’ looms


A “dark cloud of un­cer­tainty” hangs over pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions launched Thurs­day on whether Cana­di­ans are get­ting the In­ter­net ser­vices they need and want, says an ad­vo­cate for bet­ter on­line ac­cess.

The lat­est in a se­ries of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­ta­tions by the Cana­dian Ra­dio-tele­vi­sion and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion asks con­sumers what tele­com ser­vices they con­sider nec­es­sary, what they rely on most and whether the cost of those ser­vices should be the same ev­ery­where.

A sur­vey in­cor­po­rated as part of the con­sul­ta­tions also asks whose re­spon­si­bil­ity it should be to en­sure a min­i­mum stan­dard of In­ter­net ser­vice, par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral and re­mote ar­eas - mar­ket forces, govern­ment, the CRTC or a com­bi­na­tion of the three.

The con­sul­ta­tions are tak­ing place while a ma­jor In­ter­net ser­vice provider,

Bell Canada, is ap­peal­ing a 2015 CRTC rul­ing that would force the tele­com gi­ant to share its high-speed in­fra­struc­ture with other car­ri­ers on a whole­sale ba­sis.

Bell's ap­peal to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau's cab­i­net is cast­ing a shadow over the out­come of pub­lic hear­ings set for April that will wrap up the con­sul­ta­tion process, says Josh Tabish of OpenMe­dia.

“It's tricky to make ar­gu­ments about the types of ser­vices Cana­di­ans have and will have avail­able to them while Bell is try­ing to re­strict the range of ser­vices that will be made avail­able and re­shape the mar­ket­place in their favour as this con­sul­ta­tion is go­ing on,” Tabish said.

“Bell's ap­peal has placed a kind of dark cloud of un­cer­tainty over the hear­ing that makes it much more dif­fi­cult for the com­mis­sion to de­cide what op­tions will and won't be avail­able to Cana­di­ans.”

Aim­ing to foster a more com­pet­i­tive mar­ket, the CRTC an­nounced pol­icy mea­sures last July that would force Bell and other tele­com gi­ants to give in­de­pen­dent In­ter­net providers ac­cess to their fi­bre­op­tic in­fra­struc­ture on a whole­sale ba­sis.

The pol­icy was sim­i­lar to the ap­proach used for gain­ing ac­cess to slower DSL broad­band con­nec­tions that helped small, in­de­pen­dent In­ter­net ser­vice providers (ISPs) to com­pete with the big­ger play­ers. Bell has asked the new Lib­eral govern­ment to over­rule the CRTC de­ci­sion, warn­ing that the pol­icy could force it to stop in­vest­ing in state-ofthe-art tech­nol­ogy, thereby slow­ing in­no­va­tion.

Some large busi­ness groups and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies with strong ties to Bell, such as Cisco and Black­Berry, have sup­ported the ap­peal.

But con­sumer groups, in­de­pen­dent In­ter­net ser­vice providers, some ca­ble providers and the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­ness are lin­ing up be­hind the tele­com reg­u­la­tor.

The ap­peal has also seen some big cities pit­ted against each other. Toronto and Ottawa have sub­mit­ted let­ters in sup­port of Bell's po­si­tion, while the mayor of Cal­gary has op­posed it.

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