CRTC’s stop-gap fibre decision is a small step forward for affordable Internet
But far more is needed to reinvigorate the small ISP market.
NOVEMBER 6 2023 — Today the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced temporary measures to provide fair purchasing access to fibre internet to small ISPs in Ontario and Quebec. The decision will require Bell and Telus to sell access to their fibre network in those provinces to small providers within the next 6 months. Noting the rapid collapse of the small ISP market – by up to 40% since 2020 – the CRTC expresses hope that its decision will help stabilize this rapidly declining telecom competition. Despite these concerns, the CRTC’s decision will not apply to other provinces, and will only hold until the CRTC reaches a more permanent decision about their failing wholesale Internet rates regime.
"Today’s decision should be a lifeline for small ISPs– but it comes so late, most have already sunk," said Matt Hatfield, Executive Director of OpenMedia. "Fibre internet is the high speed Internet gold standard Canadians now demand, and the CRTC’s indifference to that reality has led to most small ISP players being edged out or absorbed by telecom giants over the last few years. And that means higher internet prices and less innovation for Canadians in our essential service telecom sector, despite the fact that we already pay some of the highest prices in the world.”
“Finally making the right decision today can’t bring the small ISPs we’ve lost back – all the more so if it proves to be only temporary, local relief." continued Hatfield. "Much more is needed. The CRTC needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror, and be honest with itself about the consequences of being so long asleep at the wheel, and how drastic its actions need to be to right the ship. Small telecom investors burned once by the CRTC aren’t going to come back for half-measures; they’re going to need very clear indicators that our regulator won’t abandon them again, and that means permanent favourable decisions, not temporary, local stop gaps.”
Today’s interim decision has been a very long time coming: despite a 2015 CRTC decision that fibre networks should be available to small ISPs, workable terms of access were never set, and uptake proved non-existent. The growing importance of fibre for consumers in recent years combined with unworkably high CRTC set wholesale rates for non-fibre Internet has led to rapidly escalating buyouts of Canada’s independent internet providers over the last 3 years, including Ebox, Distributel, Oxio and Start.ca. Canada’s largest independent ISP, TekSavvy, announced it was up for sale in June 2023.
In June over 3,500 OpenMedia community members shared their comments with the CRTC’s consultation on fibre access rates. OpenMedia is currently campaigning on multiple fronts to level the playing field for telecom competition, including setting reasonable fibre access rates, introducing MVNO service to cell phone markets, and comprehensively reforming the Competition Act to discourage monopolies in telecom, tech and beyond.