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OpenMedia is fighting Bell at the CRTC and Parliament on your behalf

This morning, OpenMedia filed detailed policy interventions with the CRTC to oppose Bell Canada’s appeal of the fair, pro-customer Internet rules we won together earlier this year. Find out more here.

Just hours ago, your OpenMedia team filed detailed policy interventions (which you can see here and here) with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to oppose Bell Canada’s (BCE Inc.) appeal of the fair, pro-customer Internet rules we won together earlier this year. You can see summaries of these interventions below.

By appealing these hard-won rules, Bell is rolling the dice on a political gamble that, if successful, will mean the death of affordable Internet access for Canadian households and businesses. You can get the full story in a backgrounder I produced here.

In the meantime, we’ve been running the #InternetEmergency campaign to get the word out on Bell’s plan to kill Canada's smaller, more affordable Internet providers so they can price-gouge you at will. So far over 37,000 Canadians have spoken out at https://act.openmedia.org/emergency. If you haven’t already, please join them!

 

The Origins of Bell’s Power Grab

As you may recall, between January and December, 2014, the small team at OpenMedia collaborated with over 25,000 pro-Internet advocates from across the country to create hard-hitting, crowdsourced, and expert-approved policy submissions that we later presented to the CRTC at their offices in Gatineau, Quebec.

Ultimately, this hard work paid off, and contributed to a significant milestone for Canada’s Internet. In July, the CRTC ruled on the side of Canadians by creating fair open access rules that would allow a wide variety of smaller, more affordable, Internet providers to sell services on ultra-high-speed fibre Internet networks.

The ruling meant that, going forward, we would have more players in Canada’s Internet market to help increase choice, and drive down costs for cutting-edge Internet services for both individual Internet users and businesses across the country.

Unfortunately, a couple months later, Bell activated their team of lawyers to challenge the ruling by launching simultaneous appeals at different levels of government. As I summarized in detail elsewhere:

Bell is invoking an obscure, rarely-used parliamentary process — a “Petition to the Governor-in-Council” — that enables it to ask cabinet ministers to overturn rulings made by independent, arms-length regulators like the CRTC.

At the same time, the telecom giant also asked the CRTC to “review and vary” the same ruling — a process in which the regulator can be lobbied to amend their decisions along a very narrow set of arcane criteria. The process is often invisible to the public and furiously debated between telecom lobbyists and public interest groups.

By launching simultaneous appeals, it is clear that Bell is, as one industry veteran put it, “playing politics with our Internet bills.”

With two appeals under way, we have assembled a crack policy team led by long-time OpenMedia friend and telecommunications expert Dr. David Ellis of York University. You can learn more about Dr. Ellis and follow his work through his excellent blog at www.davidellis.ca.

In light of these developments, we’ve put together a plan to push back, and wanted to share what we have in the works.

First, We Are Challenging Bell’s Appeal at the CRTC:

As we mentioned above, this morning we filed a hard-hitting intervention that challenges the telecom giant on several grounds. You can see the full document here, but the TL;DR goes something like this:

 

  • The simultaneous appeals initiated by Bell have the capacity to create inconsistent or even contradictory results. Therefore, we submit that Commission has sufficient grounds to dismiss Bell’s appeal in its entirety.

  • We oppose wholesale access restrictions suggested by Bell in their appeal, as they are likely to have a particularly negative impact on rural Canada and the retail market for business connectivity.

  • Bell’s wants to restrict fair access to fibre to parties with less than $500 million in revenues “in Canada and abroad.” We oppose this, as it can be perceived as “regulatory coddling” or “special treatment” for Canada’s Big Telecom giants from both domestic and international competition. This would punish indie ISPs that who had become successful.

  • In sum, if the CRTC caves to Bell’s appeal, it would create even less choice in the Internet market, thereby guaranteeing that both current and future Canadian Internet users will have to pay for the higher prices and lower quality of service going forward.

 

You can get all the details in our full filing here.

Second, We Are Supporting Allstream’s Appeal at the CRTC:

One of the downsides of the CRTC’s July ruling was that they began to phase out unbundled local loops (ULLs). When unbundled, the local loop, also called the “last mile,” which connects individual users’ home to the Internet, is opened up to many different ISPs.

Unfortunately, the CRTC decided to begin phasing out these fair customer choice rules to return control to Canada’s Big Telecom giants. In response, Allstream has asked the CRTC to reverse this part of the decision, a move OpenMedia supports. As we argue in our filing:

 

  • We believe the Commission has made a risky decision with potentially adverse consequences for competitive choices available to Canadians by phasing out ULLs.

  • While we support Allstream’s suggestions, we think the Commission should go further: The CRTC should only phase out pre-existing open access rules onlywhen sufficient evidence exists that its new open-access rules have been shown to provide competitive choices of superior quality and price than are currently available on the market. Right now, we don’t have that evidence, so phasing out ULLs is premature.

  • Technical arguments made by Big Telecom giants about how they will transition from the old system to the new system represent an attempt to mislead the Commission.

 

In short, of Big Telecom gets their way on ULLs, it will mean that Canadian Internet users like you will be denied more affordable alternatives in areas where fibre doesn’t yet exist – especially rural and suburban areas. See the full filing here or below for all the relevant details.

Third, We Will Fight Bell’s Appeal to Parliament

At the time of writing, over 37,000 Canadians have declared Bell’s appeal an Internet Emergency, and are speaking out to ask Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development reject Bell’s request to overturn our hard-won rules.

Proceedings for Bell’s appeal began on November 20, at which point a 30-day comment period opened for interested members of the public to tell the government where they stand. This means that OpenMedia, other public interest groups, and everyday Canadians have until December 19 to respond.

Just Two Weeks to Make our Voices Heard in Ottawa!

That’s why it’s crucial that as many people as possible sign our petition to Minister Bains — right now, we’re pulling together a proposal to shut down Bell’s power grab, and we need to show that huge numbers of Canadians are on our side.

If you’ve already signed on then thank you! — and, please don’t forget to share the campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

We’ve got your back, Canada, and we will keep you in the loop as things develop. There’s no doubt the stakes are high, as Canadians are desperate for affordable alternatives to the telecom giant. As community member Jim McGee warns on Facebook:

...Bell has been nickle and diming and deliberately screwing businesses and residential customers for decades, we had to pay $4,800 to get dial tone… The 7 poles were in place and it was just a straight cable run, and we could ONLY deal with Bell !!!!! The beat goes on!!

We hear you Jim — it’s time to suit up for battle.

See our detailed interventions here and here.