CRTC denies application to implement affordability measure in basic service ruling

The application asked the CRTC to review its December 2016 internet-as-basic-service decision

CRTC website on phone

An application to revise the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) basic service internet ruling has been rejected by Canada’s telecom watchdog.

The application was put forward by a consortium made up of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now Canada (ACORN), National Pensioners Federation (NPF) and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), in an attempt to revise the CRTC’s major December 2016 ruling.

The consortium attempted to argue that the CRTC should enforce legally mandated affordability provisions, in order to ensure that low-income Canadians are able to access the internet at affordable rates.

In a January 25th, 2018 decision, the CRTC systematically addressed each of the consortium’s central arguments, ultimately concluding that the commission “did not err in law” when it established the guidelines by which Canada would establish broadband internet as a basic service, akin to water and electricity.

Among the CRTC’s arguments were that market forces led by industry attempts to combat low income Canadians’ difficulty with affordably accessing internet service, as well as the Commission’s own attempts, “will contribute to more affordable broadband internet service.”

The consortium’s application was supported by the government of the Northwest Territories, TekSavvy, Eeyou Communications Network/ Cree Nation Government and “one individual.”

The consortium’s application was opposed by groups including Bell, Rogers, Telus, Shaw, Cogeco and Quebecor on behalf of Videotron.

Response from public advocates

For PIAC executive director John Lawford, the consortium’s application was a way of introducing firm regulation aimed at protecting low-income Canadians from an industry where high prices have historically been used as a barrier to entry.

In a phone call with MobileSyrup, Lawford said that he believes the CRTC is “ducking this problem and refusing to take responsibility when they created the problem in the first place.”

“How can you be the primary regulator with jurisdiction to make a fund as they did for people in rural areas… and not exercise that power and then chide everyone else for not doing the work,” said Lawford. “It’s inconceivable to me that the most involved players won’t get involved and that is not leadership… cowardice is the best word and I don’t know why.”

Lawford also suggested that the CRTC’s January 25th decision is potentially indicative of the kind of approach the Commission will take with future policy decisions.

“I think that the Commission under [chairperson Ian Scott] will be looking to regulate smaller, [it will be] less visionary and that probably favours the industry, because you’re not talking about large social movements or problems and you’re not talking about framework decisions, you’re doing the least you can to regulate and let market do [what it is doing].”

Source: CRTC