The federal telecom regulator begins a hearing Monday that could determine how much access small internet service providers have to high-speed service across Canada.

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission chair Jean-Pierre Blais says the regulator wants to ensure all Canadians have access to compelling content, as well as the choice of innovative wireless services and internet services.

The CRTC introduced rules a few years ago that forced the big telecom carriers to allow access to their networks for smaller ISPs. The regulator also sets the wholesale rates of such service.

This hearing will determine if ISPs have access to the new generation of fibre networks that Bell, Telus and Rogers are laying out across the country and if so, what rates they should pay.

Call for lower rates

ISPs argued at today's hearing that current rates are far too high. They said they need low rates because Canadians are downloading more video over the internet.

The amount of data Canadians download jumped by 150 per cent in just two years, from 2011 to 2013, the CRTC said. More than 65 per cent of users have download speeds of at least 5 megabits per second.

There are 500 or so small ISPs in Canada, but the top five providers — Bell, Rogers, Telus, Quebecor and Shaw - control 75 per cent of revenue from residential customers.

“We will consider the current state of deployment of fibre-optic facilities, the economic and social impacts of this technology and the required network investments,” Blais said. “This will help us decide, for instance, whether independent Internet service providers should have mandated access to these facilities.”

It will also examine the idea of deregulating wholesale telecommunications services, which some parties have suggest might be a better option, Blais said in his opening remarks.

The CRTC wants to “strike an appropriate balance between sustainable competition and sufficient incentives to invest in networks,” he said.

One suggestion was to remove the copper network and move entire networks to fibre-optic to cut costs for the telcos.

This is the third major CRTC hearing this year, following on examinations of wholesale roaming rates for cellphones and how television channels should be bundled on cable and satellite service.