The Federal Court of Appeal has rejected BCE Inc.’s request for a stay of a regulatory decision that will allow independent companies to sell internet services to their customers using its fibre network in Ontario and Quebec.
CRTC’s November decision was meant to stimulate competition for internet servicesThe Canadian Press
· Posted: Feb 12, 2024 12:42 PM EST | Last Updated: February 12
The Federal Court of Appeal has rejected BCE Inc.’s request for a stay of a regulatory decision that will allow independent companies to sell internet services to their customers using its fibre network in Ontario and Quebec. (Erik White/CBC )The Federal Court of Appeal has rejected BCE Inc.’s request for a stay of a regulatory decision that will allow independent companies to sell internet services to their customers using its fibre network in Ontario and Quebec.
The court’s decision on Friday came a day after Bell Canada announced it was slashing 4,800 jobs and could further cut network spending based in part on the CRTC’s direction.
It also came just ahead of the next phase of the federal telecommunications regulator’s study of the same issue. The CRTC kicked off a five-day hearing on Monday as part of its review of internet competition in Canada.
The CRTC announced last November it would temporarily require large telephone companies, namely Bell and Telus Corp., to provide competitors with access to their fibre-to-the-home networks in Canada’s two largest provinces within six months.
The rule doesn’t apply to Canada’s other major carrier, Rogers Communications Inc., which uses a cable network.
But Bell asked the court to appeal the CRTC’s temporary ruling and for a stay of that decision pending the outcome of the court process, which would effectively delay independent companies from obtaining access to Bell’s network to sell their internet services this May.
The court will hear the appeal, but dismissed the company’s motion for a stay of that decision pending the outcome of the court process, saying it did not demonstrate it is at risk of suffering irreparable harm.
“While we are disappointed the court did not grant our stay request to stop the interim order, we think the court made the right decision to grant our request for leave to appeal,” a spokesperson for Bell wrote in a statement to CBC News.
The spokesperson added that the CRTC’s interim decision to have Bell give fibre network access to smaller companies is “already having a negative impact” on the company’s infrastructure.
Bell is also awaiting a decision from the federal cabinet, which it has asked to review the regulator’s move.
The CRTC’s decision last November was meant to stimulate competition for internet services, noting at the time its review could potentially make that direction permanent and apply it to other provinces.
Bell has accused the CRTC of “predetermined” outcomes when it comes to that review, noting the commission’s direction thus far reduces its incentive to continue building out its fibre network.
But the Competition Bureau argued Monday during its appearance at the CRTC hearing that effective wholesale fibre access can foster more competition for internet services.
The competition regulator recommended the CRTC update its wholesale access framework to provide independent carriers “access to an increasingly important network while also serving to reduce asymmetry between incumbent facilities-based competitors that can distort competition.”
“Competition among internet providers is not only about price and service quality in the short-run, but also about building and improving internet networks in the long run,” said the bureau’s deputy commissioner Krista McWhinnie.
John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, urged the regulator not to succumb to the “threats of investment withdrawal” by large carriers.
“The commission has a mandate to achieve the telecommunications policy objectives, not to return monopoly rent to incumbents,” Lawford said.
“The incumbents are bullying the commission into using their overheated definition of ‘investment’ as a trump card that always wins. They must be told ‘no.”‘
With files from CBC’s Jenna Benchetrit