Ottawa unveils proposed policy directives for CRTC to focus on consumers and affordability


The federal government has put out new policy directives for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) aimed at improving competition and giving consumers more options for their telecom services.

The directives, which the regulator published on its website after markets closed on Thursday, are open for comment until July 19, after which they may come into force. Generally, they seek to redefine the CRTC’s mandate to make it more focused on stimulating competition among telecom services, and helping consumers in the process.

Among the proposed directives is one that would force the large incumbent telecom providers to offer space on their broadband internet networks to smaller regional competitors, who then resell that service themselves.

Known as “wholesale internet,” the regulator had, in 2019, mandated the big companies to provide that network space at a very low rate, before reversing that decision in 2021, much to the chagrin of smaller players who said they would have to raise their prices as a result.

The policy direction would not reverse that 2021 decision but it would require the big telcos “to continue to give access to competitors at regulated rates so they can offer better prices and more choices to Canadians.”

A government spokesperson said it would be “irresponsible” to implement the lower rates that were available prior to the 2021 decision.   

“That does not mean to say that there is not room for improvement, or competition.”

Colin Legendre, president of Coextro, an Ontario-based internet service provider, said he was “disappointed” in what he saw on Thursday.

The government “kind of made a non-decision by not overturning the 2021 decision,” he told CBC News.

He said the previous wholesale rates were good because they provided clarity for all companies in the space, but the 2021 decision made it impossible for smaller competitors to compete.

Changes to wireless industry too

Another proposed change would direct the CRTC “to improve its hybrid mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) model as necessary.”

MVNOs are cellular networks run by third-party companies with no wireless infrastructure of their own, but which offer services on existing networks. Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds runs a MVNO called Mint Mobile, offering rock-bottom cellular services to Americans, but not in Canada.

True MVNOs are not allowed to operate in Canada because of a 2021 CRTC ruling that declared they must have some sort of wireless infrastructure of their own to operate, meaning the only MVNOs possible in Canada would have to be regional players with their own networks that piggyback on other networks in places where they don’t operate.

The new policy directive makes it clear the government would like to see how that MVNO policy unfolds

“The government is prepared to move to a full MVNO model, if needed, to support competition in the sector,” the government said.

Another proposed change would call on the CRTC to address unacceptable sales practices and lay out new measures to improve clarity around service pricing and the ability for customers to cancel or change services.

François-Philippe Champagne, the minister of innovation, science and industry, says the new policy directives are part of the government’s push to boost affordability.

“As part of our ongoing efforts to make life more affordable for Canadians, we are introducing a strong policy direction that requires the CRTC to focus on improving competition and supporting consumers,” he said on Twitter.

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