Petition spurs CRTC debate

A petition to dissolve the CRTC has kicked off a debate online over the regulator's role and its efficacy.

A petition to dissolve the CRTC has kicked off a debate online over the regulator's role and its efficacy.

Online forums, including the CBC News comments section, have been buzzing over the past day with readers debating the effectiveness and future of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Many commenters agreed with the petition, which seeks to disband the CRTC in its current form and replace it with a new regulator.

"Could it be that the CRTC has finally driven Canadians to the boiling point? Let it be, oh let it be!" wrote one poster on a CBC story posted on Wednesday.

"The CRTC has a history of regulating ineffectively, restrictively and unfairly. So get rid of it and replace it with a body that is going to act with the best interests of the rights and values that Canadians are endowed with," wrote another.

A spokesman for the CRTC declined to comment on the petition Thursday but some commentators spoke up on behalf of the regulator. Michael Hennessy, senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs for Telus, the country's second-biggest phone company, came to the defence of the CRTC on his "When Dogs Ran Free" blog.

"The validity of the arguments behind this petition only make sense if you don't think about them," he wrote. "[It's] actually a new type of thinking now popularized in a world of instant messaging where reason is made sacrifice to speed, emotion trumps rational thought and gossip and innuendo can have as much force as fact."

The CRTC was within its mandate last week when it provisionally allowed Bell Canada to implement usage-based billing on its wholesale internet customers, a decision that catalyzed the petition to start up over the weekend.

"When did it become a crime for an economic regulator to approve a bulk rate that varied on volume consumed? Isn't that how most products are priced? Take other regulated products like electricity or water," Hennessy wrote.

He also said in his post that his stance on the petition was unusual, given that he's been critical of the regulator in the past.

"Now this comes as a surprise to me since I measure my effectiveness from various cuts and bruises received from regulators," he wrote. "That's why on bad days I yell like some corporate anarchist about blowing up the CRTC, Industry Canada or whatever government body has upset me."

Petition picks up steam

The petition, started by Mike Lerner, who works for a software company in Ottawa, had more than 2,500 signatures as of Thursday evening, up from 440 a day earlier. Lerner says he plans to deliver the petition to Heritage Minister James Moore, who is responsible for the CRTC, if it reaches 10,000 signatures.

Lerner's petition calls for the replacement of the CRTC's current commissioners with new ones who have fewer ties to the industries they regulate, and for a more transparent decision-making process. Lerner also told CBC News on Wednesday that commissioners should be more in touch with new technologies and business models.

Lerner countered Hennessy's post on his petition website by saying the CRTC's decision last week will allow Bell to "double dip" on what it charges wholesale customers, first for access to bandwidth up front and then again for whatever they end up using.

"With the approval of usage-based billing it is stifling competition, contrary to the CRTC's mandate, by not allowing differentiation of service by wholesalers from Bell retail," Lerner wrote. "This is not an appropriate wholesale model."

Bell's wholesale internet customers — small companies such as Teksavvy and Acanac that typically allow users to download hundreds of gigabytes per month — have three months to implement Bell's usage-based model. Customers on Bell's most popular retail plans typically get 50 to 60 gigabytes of monthly usage.

The CRTC has come under fire recently from both consumers and the companies it regulates. Television providers including Bell and Rogers last week encouraged consumers to express their anger over a new 1.5-per-cent increase in their bills, set to take effect on Sept. 1, at the regulator. The new charge is to help pay for local programming in small communities.

The heads of regulatory affairs for both Bell and Rogers told CBC News last week that the CRTC was out-of-touch with new technologies and was trying to prop up outdated business models.

Television broadcaster CTV, meanwhile, last week called for new regulations on service providers such as Bell and Rogers to stem steadily increasing prices. The cost of a basic television subscription has gone up by more than 70 per cent in some major markets since deregulation went into effect earlier this decade.

The CRTC was in 2006 ordered by the government to be "light-handed" with its regulatory powers.