TekSavvy says government should overturn CRTC ruling, call in Competition Bureau

TekSavvy says government should overturn CRTC ruling, call in Competition Bureau

TORONTO — TekSavvy Solutions Inc. says it wants the federal government to order a Competition Bureau investigation into the telecom industry in light of recent CRTC decisions.

The independent internet provider formally petitioned the Trudeau cabinet late last week to overturn a CRTC decision that will see smaller ISPs charged more for wholesale internet, likely raising prices for their customers.

The petition calls for cabinet to overrule the CRTC decision, remove CRTC chairman Ian Scott and order the Competition Bureau to look into activities by Canada’s phone and cable companies.

It comes after the CRTC last week reversed a 2019 decision that would have substantially lowered the wholesale internet prices charged by phone and cable companies to piggyback on larger companies’ networks.

The CRTC has previously said it won’t comment on the ruling.

Dozens of independent operators, including TekSavvy, buy access to the phone and cable networks, and then sell the internet and other services to homes and businesses. Under last week’s CRTC ruling, they will be charged a higher rate first set in 2016 rather than the lower prices from the 2019 decision.

The Competition Bureau issued an email statement on Monday that said it can only disclose investigations under certain circumstances, and wouldn’t comment directly on TekSavvy’s request.

“The Bureau has and continues to be active in the telecommunications sector, including reviewing mergers, intervening in many recent CRTC telecommunications proceedings and assessing competitive dynamics in the industry through its broadband market study (issued in August 2019).”

TekSavvy vice-president Andy Kaplan-Myrth said his company filed the complaint to cabinet because recent CRTC decisions set back efforts to support smaller competitors, whose presence in the market tends to lower overall prices.

He said TekSavvy had previously lodged a complaint directly with the Competition Bureau, but now thinks there should be a broader telecommunications sector investigation in light of CRTC decisions and a proposed merger of Rogers with Shaw Communictions.

“This is actually not a big ask, right?” Kaplan-Myrth said in an interview. “I think there’s a possibility that they’ll at least be interested in investigating it.”

Kaplan-Myrth said that, in TekSavvy’s view, last week’s wholesale internet rates decision was such a complete reversal that it raises questions about the CRTC chairman’s leadership.

He also said an unrelated, but similar, CRTC decision in April will leave most competition in the wireless sector in the hands of phone and cable companies — while leaving out smaller rivals.

The Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a non-profit organization that often appears before the CRTC, agrees there’s reason for the government to change the commission’s decision.

“PIAC agrees with TekSavvy that this CRTC decision is problematic and should be rescinded,” executive director John Lawford said an email statement Monday.

The group did not comment on the role of the CRTC chairman.

A spokesman for the minister that oversees the CRTC, Competition Bureau, and other federal bodies on Monday referred to a statement issued Thursday after the CRTC’s decision on internet wholesale prices.

“Affordable, high-quality internet access is a necessity,” the statement by Inovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne reads in part.

It concludes by saying the cabinet “will be reviewing the (CRTC) decision and its implications to ensure they align with our policy priorities.”

A previous cabinet review by Champagne’s predecessor, Navdeep Bains, suggested that the CRTC hadn’t met all of the government’s priorities but left it to the agency to review its own work.

The CRTC said in Thursday’s decision that it would keep most 2016 prices, with a few modifications, rather than start another review that would divert CRTC resources from other issues.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2021.

David Paddon, The Canadian Press

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