Technology & Science

Scrap the CRTC, petition urges

An online petition to dissolve the CRTC has attracted hundreds of signatures in the wake of the regulator's ruling against independent internet providers last week.

An online petition to dissolve the CRTC has attracted hundreds of signatures in the wake of the regulator's ruling against independent internet providers last week.

The petition, at and on Facebook and Twitter, had more than 440 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. The site was started Saturday by Mike Lerner, a 23-year-old Ottawa software company employee, who was frustrated by a decision to allow Bell Canada to institute usage-based billing on its wholesale internet customers.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last week provisionally approved Bell's request to require independent companies such as TekSavvy and Acanac, which rent parts of its network to supply their own services, to charge customers by how much they download.

Independent providers typically offer customers hundreds of gigabytes of usage where Bell's most popular service allows only 50 gigabytes a month.

Smaller providers now say they have just under three months to migrate their customers on to similar usage models. Once those plans are implemented, they say, their services will be indistinguishable from Bell's.

The CRTC, the petition says, is failing in its mandate to protect competition and look out for the interest of Canadian consumers and has for the past three years shown "undue preference in the interest of commercial entities and their preference for traditional business models over competing models that would create competition."

"We, the undersigned, believe that the CRTC has become a burden on the Canadian public and are failing to perform their duties in the interest of the Canadian public and that of a fair and unbiased telecom policy," it says.

Lerner told CBC News the government needs to replace the current regulator with a body that is staffed by people who are in touch with the new technology and competition models being introduced by the internet.

"You need some people who have experience with telecom but you also need some people who understand the new types of competition. They just don't have any experience in that field," he says.

Lerner's goal is to amass 10,000 signatures, which he admits is ambitious, and present the petition to Heritage Minister James Moore, who is responsible for the CRTC. Lerner is also planning an anti-CRTC rally on Parliament Hill

He does not hold out much hope that the regulator will come to a fair and informed decision on the issue of net neutrality, or how much control service providers should have over internet connections. The CRTC held public hearings on the issue earlier this year and is set to make a ruling this fall.

"They're saying retail and wholesale are the same," Lerner said. "They think competition is whatever Bell thinks it is."

A spokesman for the CRTC did not return several requests for an interview with one of the agency's commissioners.

Criticisms of the CRTC in online message boards and in comments on CBC stories have been building since it was ordered to proceed with a "light regulatory touch" in 2006 by then industry minister Maxime Bernier.

"Canada's new government has again furthered its ambitious policy agenda for the telecommunications sector by issuing the policy direction to the CRTC," Bernier said at the time. "Our plan will increase competition in the marketplace, which ultimately will have a positive effect on the consumer who will benefit from greater choices and improved products and services."

Calls for stronger regulation of various services have been coming from several quarters recently. Last week, television broadcaster CTV called for the re-regulation of basic television prices in the wake of a new 1.5-per-cent charge by several providers related to local programming. Consumer groups, meanwhile, have been urging regulation of the wireless industry for years.

Some of the companies governed by the CRTC have also been fuelling consumer resentment of the regulator recently. Bell and Rogers executives last week told CBC News that consumers should direct their anger over new television charges at the CRTC, which they said is mired in supporting old television business models.

A complaints agency, the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, was set up in 2007 to protect consumers from deregulation following a recommendation from Bernier. Two years on, however, the agency still has not implemented a planned publicity campaign and few Canadians know of its existence.