Home > Computers and Internet, Law and Public Policy > Canada’s net.Gestapo: The CRTC?

Canada’s net.Gestapo: The CRTC?

01-Feb-11 07:23 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments
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The Canadian Radio-Television and Communications Commission (CRTC) has recently been criticized for making rulings which overtly favour the larger Internet service providers and owners of service infrastructure (which in Canada are one and the same); leaving smaller Internet companies at a competitive disadvantage.
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ow did Canada’s Radio-Television and Communications Commission (CRTC) get the job of regulating virtually every aspect of Internet connectivity in the country?  It’s a question a growing number of people are finding themselves asking in light of a recent CRTC ruling concerning mandatory bandwidth caps being imposed on consumers.  The plan would also impose a billing system of usage-based billing where the amount of network bandwidth used — or the amount of data downloaded within a fixed period of time — would become the lone basis for which Internet access could be sold. (Meaning no more “unlimited bandwidth” accounts.)

Proponents argue that other services, such as conventional utilities, offer such metered service in the same way and that Internet access should be no different since the amount of network traffic is really what drives infrastructure costs for service carriers.  But consumer advocates and smaller Internet companies, including smaller Internet access providers who are already forced to pay larger carriers like Bell Canada and Rogers Communications for the bandwidth they effectively resell to their customers argue that mandating metered or usage-based access inevitably makes access more expensive, and thus limiting their options in terms of the service bundles smaller service providers can offer.  The small Internet companies say that this is actually the real aim of of the new rules being advocated by the larger carriers: to eliminate them from the market altogether creating a near-monopoly.

But it does seem to fit the pattern of decision-making exhibited by the CRTC.  I can’t think of a single ruling in the past 10 years that has favoured either the consumer or the ideal of improved competition.  To answer the lead question of my article superficially; the CRTC regulates not only radio-frequency and wireless technology (who can transmit on what frequency), but also who can have access to property to install infrastructure such as cable or phone lines and under what terms.  And it’s precisely because they regulate the infrastructure, they also get to regulate the rates consumers pay for those services.  But small Internet companies are distantly removed from any of this, yet their business models are directly impacted when the CRTC and extends its mandate into the world of how much data transmitted over the infrastructure should cost.

But it’s been decades since that infrastructure was laid down and while it is still maintained today and rights of access and other practical concerns need regulation, it’s really hard to see what business the CRTC has in dictating what pricing model a small Internet service can offer its customers.

Yet that’s precisely what it’s doing today.

And so the time has come perhaps to review the CRTC’s role and, in fact, limit its ability to regulate in the area of data and Internet.  These newer technologies simply don’t need a regulatory body to involve itself the way the CRTC does and it should be explicitly prohibited from having any say in how the industry is run.  It should enforce the right of access to subsidiary carriers to all services which are part of its mandate – for those services exist by virtue of government regulation.  But beyond that, there’s simply no need that I can see for them to be involved.

Here’s hoping the upcoming review uncovers this obvious truth and that the Conservative government decides to take a common-sense approach to ensuring consumers are protected and the market remains healthy and competitive.

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Terry Glavin

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