Canadian telecom industry association calls on the CRTC to move swiftly to bring the issue of wholesale rates to a close, after nearly two years of delays by the big telecom companies
TORONTO – February 25, 2021: The Competitive Network Operators of Canada (CNOC) is encouraged by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC)’s decision, announced this morning, to reject the large telecom incumbents’ request to appeal their case against the CRTC’s mandated wholesale rate correction from 2019.
“We are pleased with the SCC’s decision, which brings an end to this avenue of the incumbents’ delay tactics,” says Matt Stein, CNOC Chair and CEO of Distributel. “Internet access tops the list of many Canadians’ household expenses, and for many, it’s simply not affordable. Yet Canadians need the internet now more than ever to work, learn, and connect with loved ones, as they try to retain some semblance of their normal lives while they manage through a global pandemic. The SCC’s decision puts us one step closer to finally being able to make internet access affordable for Canadians across the country.”
Putting an End to Backroom Pressure and Delay Tactics
After several years of thorough consultation and research, the CRTC released its original decision in August 2019. The ruling ordered the incumbents to correct the rates they charge to independent carriers for wholesale access to their networks, and to pay back the independents for years of over-charging, to the tune of $325 million. CNOC applauded that decision, and many of its members immediately moved to increase speeds and lower rates for consumers, in an effort to make internet access more affordable for all Canadians.
But the big telecom companies leveraged their playbook, appealing to the CRTC itself, the government, the Federal Court of Appeal and finally the Supreme Court of Canada. They intensified lobbyist pressure. They threatened to pull back on investments in rural networks.
None of those efforts have been successful, Stein notes. “Last summer, the Federal Government decided not to overturn or change the CRTC’s original ruling, and the judges on the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the incumbents’ first appeal, unequivocally confirming that their claims had ‘dubious merit.’ To have the Supreme Court uphold that view today is a clear victory for Canadians. Enough is enough.”
Stein continues: “It’s unfortunate that the big telecoms felt the need to petition our highest court in challenging the CRTC’s rate-correction decision. It was another expensive delay tactic that wasted millions of dollars and months of time, and kept Canadians’ internet bills among the highest in the world during a time when connectivity has never been more important.”
The Next Step: CRTC Must Stand Strong and Fight for Fair Internet
The fight for fair internet is not over, he says. “We need to stand up for Canadians by correcting the imbalance and by holding the large telecoms to account.” Canada’s telecom industry needs a level playing field where competition can flourish without being held hostage by the incumbents’ inflated wholesale rates. Competition drives innovation, which brings incredible value to Canadian households. The Liberal government campaigned on a promise to make life better for the middle class; the CRTC’s rate correction provides an excellent opportunity to do just that. Stein says that François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s new Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is well-positioned to stand up to the incumbents’ backroom pressure and champion the CRTC’s original ruling.
The next and final step in the process is for the CRTC to issue a decision through its review-and-vary process (as requested by the incumbents in yet another attempt to delay fair wholesale internet rates). “We’re confident that the CRTC will do the right thing and move swiftly on that decision,” says Stein. “It’s been nearly two years since the original ruling, and Canadians shouldn’t have to wait any longer. They deserve so much better.”
Today’s SCC decision is a clear signal that the issue is moving in the right direction, he says. “This is a good day for Canada, for choice, for fairness, and for the affordability of essential internet services for all Canadians.”