CRTC to Big Telecoms: 'Abuses of Power in the System Will Not Go Unchecked’

Will the regulator live up to its strong words?

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Nov 17 2016, 1:00pm

Image: Flickr/freestocks.org

Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of Canada's federal telecom regulator, had some strong words for the country's biggest companies in a speech he gave at a national telecom conference in Ottawa on Wednesday: stop "grumbling," and start serving Canadians better.

Recent decisions by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) have raised the ire of the "big three" companies that dominate this country's telecom market: Bell Canada, Rogers, and Telus. For example, rulings that forced companies to provide affordable $25 "skinny packages" for cable and share fiber internet infrastructure with smaller competitors were not well received by the three incumbents, no matter how welcome they may have been to customers.

"Some incumbents grumble about having to provide wholesale access to their competitors," Blais said to the annual conference of the Canadian Chapter of the International Institute of Communications. "If the winds of change blow too hard and they refuse to bend in the wind, the tree may break at the trunk rather than lose a few leaves."

Read More: Most of Canada's Biggest Telecoms Want to End Net Neutrality

Motherboard reached out to Rogers, Telus and Bell for comment on Blais' statements and has not yet received a response from the latter two. Rogers declined to comment.

Blais also came out strongly in favour of the concept of net neutrality, which holds that all internet content must be equally accessible to users. That means no special deals on data for certain products or speed "throttling."

"We want broadcasters and telecommunications providers to move their industries forward by creating new content and opening new channels for consumers to access media," said Blais. "But when the drive to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of free and open access to content, we will intervene. Abuses of power in the system will not go unchecked."

In 2015, the CRTC ordered Bell and Quebec company Videotron to cease promoting their own products by offering deals that would allow customers to access them without depleting their data plans.

In 2017, the CRTC will be handing down a judgement on whether Videotron can offer data deals for third-party streaming sites like Spotify. This practice of "differential pricing," or "zero rating," is a major sticking point for advocates of net neutrality.

Blais and the CRTC's commitment to Wednesday's strong words will be tested very soon.

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