Time running out on internet access appeals

Cabinet must decide this week whether it will overrule or let stand a pair of CRTC decisions regarding access by competitor internet providers to the networks of large phone companies, including Bell and Telus.

The clock is running out for cabinet to decide on a set of appeals that could determine the future of internet access in Canada.

Cabinet must decide this week whether it will overrule or let stand a pair of CRTC decisions regarding access by competitor internet providers to the networks of large phone companies, including Bell and Telus.

Small companies such as TekSavvy and Execulink currently get regulated access to these networks, which they rent to provide their own internet services to customers. Bell and Telus have argued that this access should be limited to their old networks and not to their expensive new fibre-based extensions.

On Dec. 11 last year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled that competitors' regulated access would indeed be extended to the newer infrastructure. The CRTC told Bell, Telus and other network owners that they had to provide smaller wholesale ISPs with access to any internet speeds they themselves sold on a retail basis.

The big companies were given 45 days to file the rates they planned to charge competitor ISPs for faster speeds. Bell and Telus appealed the order to cabinet and have so far not obeyed it, and the CRTC has not enforced it. The two companies are selling internet speeds up to 15 and 16 megabits respectively, but wholesale ISPs are limited to around five or six megabits.

MTS Allstream is appealing another CRTC decision, also made on Dec. 11 last year. That decision ruled that wholesale access to certain kinds of internet access — Ethernet and ADSL — would not be regulated by the CRTC, and prices would be set by network owners. MTS argued that these services cannot be easily built by competitors and should therefore have regulated access.

All the appeals were lodged with the cabinet in March. Under the Telecommunications Act, the government has one year from the initial CRTC decision to either vary or overrule it, or to send it back to the regulator for reconsideration.

Also on the cabinet's plate is the CRTC's rejection of wireless startup Globalive. The regulator in October ruled that the wireless company did not meet Canadian ownership and control rules, so it could not proceed with its plan to start service in several cities this year.

Industry Minister Tony Clement, whose department had previously approved Globalive's startup, said he was reviewing the decision a day after it was issued.

Clement last week said there was some "urgency" to come to a final decision on Globalive, which has hundreds of employees on the payroll, yet is faced with an uncertain future.