The federal government’s new policy direction to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is a positive move in the long-term but does little to appease the current burden of high-internet rates, advocacy groups, and internet service providers (ISPs) say.
The policy direction doesn’t impact wholesale internet rates currently in place but lists a new set of ideas and objectives the government says will improve competition and affordability. The direction lacks detail about how this will happen and is still subject to parliamentary approval.
It further eliminates two previous policy directions that created conflicts. The first, introduced in 2006, focused on encouraging telecom companies to invest in networks. The second asked the CRTC to focus on affordability, competition, and consumer rights. The Liberals introduced the policy in 2019.
The direction also appears to wipe clean a slate that saw CRTC chair Ian Scott engulfed in a controversy that intensified after meeting with Bell executive Mirko Bibic.
In May 2019, the CRTC found that wholesale internet rates were too high and had to be lowered. ISPs and advocacy groups welcomed the news, but it saw appeals from leading telecom corporations, including Bell.
One week after Bell filed an appeal, Bibic and Scott were pictured in an Ottawa pub having beers. Scott maintained the meeting was on the books, and he followed all the rules. But many said the meeting was inappropriate as a file on the matter was currently open.
The CRTC reversed the decision in May 2021, saying it made it in error. The move led to several appeals, including one by ISP TekSavvy.
The company says the new policy direction “endorsed higher internet prices and misconduct by the head of the CRTC.” While the ISP acknowledges the approach could lead to competition, it ignores appeals that would see lower wholesale internet rates first outlined in 2019.
Open Media, an advocacy group that, in part, focuses on internet affordability, shared similar thoughts.
“Our government agreed the CRTC is failing Canadians — yet did nothing immediate to fix it,” Matt Hatfield, OpenMedia’s campaigns director, said. “The good news [the] announcement is that the CRTC we have today is clearly out of step with the government’s new objectives.”
Industry players have sixty days to review and provide comments on the new policy directions.