Broadband campaign draws 85,000 letters to MPs

A campaign urging government intervention in the broadband internet market has generated more than 85,000 letters to MPs from concerned Canadians, the group behind the effort says.

A campaign urging government intervention in the broadband internet market has generated more than 85,000 letters to MPs from concerned Canadians, the group behind the effort says.

The Coalition for Competitive Broadband on Tuesday said the volume of letters proves that consumers have lost faith in the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to look out for their best interests. 

"This cabinet recognizes that government has a role to play in ensuring healthy competitive conditions," said Chris Peirce, chief corporate officer for MTS Allstream, in a statement. "There's a wealth of evidence that the CRTC has no idea how to ensure competition, and that is why the government must continue to direct the CRTC."

The group is led by Winnipeg-based MTS and is made up of more than 50 small internet providers and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, which represents 100,000 small and medium businesses. MTS and the smaller ISPs rent portions of networks owned by bigger phone companies such as Bell and Telus to supply internet services to their own customers.

The campaign, which launched in mid-September, stems from a CRTC decision last year that said Bell and Telus do not have to offer smaller competitors access to their broadband ethernet infrastructure. MTS has appealed the ruling to cabinet, which has until early December to make a decision. The government could overturn the decision, ask the CRTC to review it or let it stand.

The coalition says that without proper access to those big networks, internet rates will go up and Canada's poor showing in international broadband comparisons — which several recent studies have pointed out — will only get worse.

Bell and Telus have said the international studies are wrong and that Canada is a world broadband leader. They have also said that MTS and the small ISPs are confusing the issue and are simply trying to get access to their networks for below market rates.

The campaign "is a public relations ploy created by national business services provider MTS Allstream, which does not even provide internet access to consumers and small businesses outside Manitoba," said Michael Hennesy, head of regulatory affairs at Telus. "MTS Allstream appears to be trying to confuse the public into supporting its appeal of the ethernet decision by making misleading claims, such as the one about consumer internet prices going up."

Consumer groups and opposition parties have voiced their support for the coalition and have also called on the government to take action. The Liberal party last week issued a policy statement that urges stronger broadband competition and wholesale regulations.