The CRTC authorizes access to the fiber optic networks of major companies

Canada’s national telecommunications regulator will allow independent competitors to sell Internet services over the fiber optic networks of major telephone companies in Ontario and Quebec, it said Monday.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced the decision Monday at the Canadian Telecommunications Summit in Toronto as part of an ongoing review of third-party access to fiber optic networks aimed at stimulating competition and lowering prices for customers.

This is a partial decision, with more hearings to come, as part of a review launched by the CRTC in March into the rates that smaller competitors pay to large telecommunications companies for access to their networks. At the time, the commission also announced it would cut some wholesale Internet rates by 10%.

The review, which looked at more than 300 interventions, included a fast-track investigation into whether large operators should provide smaller competitors with access to their fiber-to-the-home networks.

The CRTC says its review found a significant decline in competition in Ontario and Quebec, where independent Internet providers currently serve 47% fewer customers than they did two years ago.

“In the meantime, several competitors have been acquired by larger Internet service providers. This gives many Canadians fewer options for high-speed Internet services,” said CRTC President Vicky Eatrides in a speech to conference participants on Monday.

“The CRTC is acting quickly to help stabilize the market. »

The decision requires the major telephone companies, namely BCE and Telus, to provide their competitors with access to their fiber optic networks to the home within six months. This time will allow companies to prepare their networks and develop information technologies and billing systems.

The CRTC says it is also setting interim rates that smaller competitors will pay to access fiber optic networks, which will support both competition and continued investment in high-quality networks.

The regulator highlights that Monday’s decision aims to stabilize the market in areas where it will have a significant impact on choice and affordability for consumers, in line with the directive from Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne. The latter asked the CRTC earlier this year to strengthen consumer rights.

The move received cautious praise from the Canadian Competitive Network Operators (CCNO) group, which called the decision “an important and essential step toward a more equitable competitive landscape.”

But the organization, which represents independent Internet service providers, added that its “optimism (is) tempered”, noting that the decision “only implements an interim regional regime for two major telephone companies, and that the rates are always provisional”.

“A permanent national framework applicable to all dominant carriers with fair and reasonable rates is necessary to enable true competition which has not yet been established,” argued ORCC President Paul Andersen.

In a statement, Telus spokesperson Kalene DeBaeremaeker said the company is reviewing the interim decision “and (looks) forward to participating in the remainder of the CRTC proceedings.”

Bell Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last week, Bell CEO Mirko Bibic warned that if the regulator’s decision in the review favored the position of smaller players over larger companies, it would prompt Bell to slow down its plans to fiber optic construction.

“It’s as simple as that,” Mr. Bibic told analysts at a conference to discuss its third-quarter financial results.

“That would be unfortunate, because when we enter a community with fiber optics, we actually increase competition. […] The customer gets better service, better value, lower prices and that’s what’s at stake here in the debate that we generally have around the regulatory process. »

The CRTC said its broader review was still ongoing, and the next public hearing was scheduled for February 12.

No decision has yet been made on whether a similar move would affect internet services in other provinces.

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