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CRTC chair urges Ottawa to resolve appeal over Internet access ruling

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) chairman Jean-Pierre Blais takes part in a news conference in Gatineau, Que. on June 27, 2013. The CRTC is holding a public hearing on the future of local news and asking for input on new ways to funnel funding to the industry.

Chris Wattie/REUTERS

Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of Canada's telecom and broadcast regulator, is calling on the federal government to take quick action to resolve an outstanding appeal over small competitors' access to the highest-speed Internet services.

BCE Inc. filed a petition to the Governor in Council in October, challenging part of a July decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that will require the company to give small Internet providers the ability to resell its fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband service.

Legislation provides that the Minister of Innovation, Navdeep Bains, has until July 22 – one year from the date of the original ruling – to amend the CRTC's decision, send it back for reconsideration or take no action.

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"I hope the people who are considering it – and I have no window into it – but I hope they realize that delay creates uncertainty and uncertainty is not good," Mr. Blais said in an interview Wednesday. "I know it's a new government and I know there are a lot of things on their plate, but I hope they don't wait until July to make a decision."

"The government received a petition and is following the process laid out in the Telecommunications Act," Stéfanie Power, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bains, said Wednesday. She did not comment on any timeline for a decision.

Mr. Blais was also critical of Montreal-based BCE's decision to appeal part of the ruling in the first place, arguing that the CRTC undertakes a thorough and open process before coming to a decision.

"I really am frustrated when you've had your day in court – in a sense, before us – and you go off. We weighed all of this. We don't do it lightly."

BCE has argued that the decision to allow competitive Internet service providers – such as TekSavvy, Distributel and Primus – to buy wholesale access to its newest generation of service, could affect investment decisions. BCE is still in the process of building its FTTH broadband coverage and says the ruling could delay its plans to expand to some medium-sized and small towns and rural areas.

The cabinet appeal attracted more than 80 comments before a late December deadline, including letters of support for BCE's position from the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa. However, Toronto City Council voted earlier this month to express its public support for the CRTC ruling and Ottawa's council will consider a similar motion next week.

In a speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto earlier Wednesday, Mr. Blais also alluded to his frustration with the commission's critics.

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"[M]any Canadians and companies approve of the course we at the CRTC are setting. They are responding positively by innovating and changing their practices and behaviours," he said. "Others are just complaining. They're forecasting doom and gloom: job cuts, revenue losses, station closures. They run off to court, they run off to cabinet to seek relief. It's their right to do so, but it doesn't make them right."

Over the past year, BCE has also appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal over the CRTC's ruling on the pricing of Bell Mobility Inc.'s Mobile TV app as well as the commission's move to block the substitution of U.S. ads with Canadian ones during the Super Bowl.

BCE declined to respond to the CRTC chairman's comments Wednesday.

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About the Author
Telecom Reporter

Christine Dobby covers the Canadian telecom industry for The Globe and Mail. Before joining the Globe in May 2014 she reported for the Financial Post for three years, most recently writing about telecom and media. She has also reported for the Toronto Star and New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. More


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