Bell petitions Trudeau government to overrule CRTC on wholesale network rates

BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada has asked the federal cabinet to prevent the country’s telecommunications regulator from slashing the wholesale rates that large carriers charge smaller rivals for access to their broadband networks.

Among other things, Bell is asking the federal government to restore wholesale rates for high-speed access that had been in place prior to a decision issued in August by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The company also wants the government to overrule the CRTC’s decision to make the lower wholesale rates retroactive to 2016, potentially forcing Bell and other carriers to repay hundreds of millions of dollars to Canada’s independent internet providers.

Bell — the country’s largest phone company — and most of Canada’s large cable companies have already challenged the CRTC at the Federal Court of Appeal, which issued a temporary stay on the CRTC decisions in September.

Negative consequences

The large companies have warned there will be serious negative consequences if network owners aren’t able to charge a higher wholesale price to smaller internet service providers.

“The commission failed to heed this warning,” BCE said in a 37-page petition filed with the government Wednesday.

“The incentive to invest in facilities capable of achieving a nearly 200-fold speed improvement has been completely negated by the order.

“There is no clearer proof than the fact that Videotron has withdrawn its flagship gigabit Internet offer from the market, including for its own retail customers, explicitly as a result of the order.”

Videotron is a subsidiary of Montreal-based Quebecor Inc. that competes in Quebec against Bell, but shares BCE’s view that the CRTC’s wholesale broadband pricing regime should be scrapped.

Videotron joined Rogers, Shaw and other large cable network operators in a suit filed with the federal appeal court. Bell Canada filed a similar suit with the court on behalf of itself, Bell MTS and Bell Aliant.

‘Tried this play before’

BCE’s latest tactic — an approach to the prime minister and his ministers through a petition to the “governor in council” — follows a hard-fought election that reduced the Liberals to a minority government.

Bell had a similar tactic following the 2015 federal election. After the CRTC ruled that large telecom companies must sell wholesale access to their fibre networks to independent internet providers, Bell appealed the ruling to both the CRTC and the federal government.

“Big Telecom’s already tried this play before, right after the last election –  and the government rightly rejected it, recognizing it for what it was: a desperate move with no standing,” Laura Tribe, executive director of OpenMedia, said in a statement to CBC News.

“Since then, the government has issued a new policy direction for the CRTC focusing on customers and affordability, and even more recently made promises during the election to bring more affordable Internet services to Canadians.”

OpenMedia is a Canadian company that works to keep the internet open and affordable.

The Prime Minister’s Office was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.


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