CRTC asks Northwestel to reapply for relief of internet overage fees — without conditions

Canada’s telecoms regulator is asking Northwestel to reapply for temporary relief of internet overage fees for its customers, but without conditions that the CRTC restore the local subsidy.

Northwestel’s application hinged on CRTC restoring local subsidy

The CRTC is asking Northwestel to refile an application on waiving overage fees, this time without conditions. The commission says it wants to 'give this important initiative immediate consideration.' (Travis Burke/CBC)

Canada's telecoms regulator is asking Northwestel to reapply for temporary relief of internet overage fees for customers — this time without conditions. 

In a Monday press release, Northwestel announced it had submitted an urgent application to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to waive overage charges for March and April for customers in Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and northern Alberta and British Columbia. 

The company said this was part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic as many schools have closed and people are working from home. 

Northwestel also said it asked CRTC to freeze the subsidy for telecommunications in northern high-cost serving areas, to ensure adequate funding in "this critical period." It noted its DSL internet rates are significantly below its costs.

In 2018, the commission announced its plans to phase out nearly $116 million in subsidies for local telephone services over three years from 2019 to 2021 through semi-annual reductions. This was a result of its decision in 2016 to focus on broadband internet access. 

On Wednesday, the commission responded to Northwestel's application in a letter to Stan Thompson, chief financial officer and vice-president of Northwestel Inc.

The letter says Northwestel's proposal would provide financial relief to customers who may use more data during the COVID-19 outbreak and is consistent with measures being proposed and implemented by other internet service providers across Canada 

But the commission took issue with "a number of complex regulatory costing and policy issues" raised by Northwestel. 

Refile application without subsidy clause

The letter says Northwestel made a second submission to the CRTC related to residential internet service. It asks the commission to restore the local subsidy, fund it from the National Contribution Fund and introduce a new fixed rate, unlimited data option for certain residential internet customers by May 1. 

And, according to the CRTC's letter, Northwestel made its willingness to proceed with the temporary relief of overage fees dependent on the CRTC restoring the subsidy. 

"[This] would have the effect of the commission prematurely reconsidering its determinations on local subsidy prior to receiving the submissions of other parties in an upcoming proceeding on that same issue," the letter reads. 

The commission is now asking Northwestel to refile its application on waiving overage fees without conditions so the commission can "give this important initiative immediate consideration."

CRTC notes it intends to address many of the subsidy issues raised by Northwestel in an upcoming proceeding and that there are added challenges with having regulatory proceedings "during this unique time of crisis."

In a tweet Thursday afternoon, Northwestel said it's developing an adjusted plan, and will refile its application "immediately."


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