Cheaper internet may be coming after cabinet rejects Bell appeal

The federal cabinet is supporting a CRTC decision that forces Canada's big Internet providers to share their high-speed infrastructure with smaller carriers at a wholesale cost.

'We'll abide by the rules and move forward,' Bell says

The CRTC ruled in July that large telecom companies such as Bell must sell wholesale access to their fibre networks to independent internet providers. (Rasulov/Shutterstock)

The federal cabinet is supporting a CRTC decision that forces Canada's big Internet providers to share their high-speed infrastructure with smaller carriers at a wholesale cost.

Bell Canada had asked the Liberal government to overrule the regulator's decision, saying it would discourage innovation.

But the minister responsible for the telecom industry, Navdeep Bains, said Wednesday in a statement that middle-class and low-income families need access to affordable, high-speed internet.

He said the wholesale broadband ruling helps enable retail competition in the market.

Bell had argued that the regulation could slow innovation by forcing it to stop investing in technology. It said that in order to support the business case for expanding its fibre optic network, it needed customers to subscribe not just to internet, but also home phone and TV services. 

Bell's appeal followed a July 2015 decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which ordered Canada's telecom giants to provide other internet providers with wholesale access to their fibre optic networks.

Bains said the CRTC decision balances the industry's incentive to continue to invest and consumer choice. He said the federal government is encouraged by recent announcements of companies investing in fibre across Canada.

In order to support the business case for building fibre, Bell says, the company needs customers to subscribe not just to internet, but also TV and home phone services. (CBC)

In response to the statement, Bell spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis wrote in an email: "We'll abide by the rules and move forward."

Consumer advocacy groups praised the cabinet decision.

Josh Tabish, campaigns director for OpenMedia, a Vancouver-based group that lobbies on behalf of internet users, said the decision will allow independent ISPs to "operate fairly on a more level playing field" with big companies like Bell.

"For Canadians, this will mean more affordable access to fibre internet which, outside of Canada, is the internet of today, not of tomorrow," he added in a news release.

Geoff White, counsel to a coalition of consumer groups that filed a submission opposing Bell's appeal, said the original CRTC decision was based on ample evidence and consultation.

He added in a statement: "Cabinet standing behind the CRTC, instead of second-guessing it, is the right public policy, and the best consumer outcome."

With files from CBC News

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